International agencies appeal for nuclear policy, market reforms

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The intergovernmental Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has called for fundamental changes in government policy and cooperation with industry to reform what the agency identified as an “unsustainable economic structure” for the supply of isotopes for nuclear medicine.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been plagued by shortages over the past two years in the supply of molybdenum-99 ( 99Mo), whose decay product, technetium-99m ( 99mTc), is the most widely used medical radioisotope. In a statement released last week, the OECD/NEA Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy called on “governments and industry to work together to implement fundamental changes in the molybdenum-99 supply chain to ensure long-term reliability of supply.”

While acknowledging recent stabilization in the supply of 99mTc, the Nuclear Energy Steering Committee criticized underlying and unaddressed problems that have exposed a fragile supply chain and an unsustainable economic structure.

The committee offered policy recommendations for both government and market players. In an effort to prop up investment in the nuclear industry, the steering committee first counseled producers to implement full-cost recovery for 99Mo activities. At the same time, the NEA recommended that actors and stakeholders along the supply chain ensure their own reserve capacities in the case of future shortages.

The committee also leveled a number of proposals at governments, who play an intimate role in OECD bodies. Among these recommendations, the NEA recommended that governments support conversion to the use of low enriched uranium targets of 99Mo production, when possible.

Stepped-up collaboration between governments is essential, the committee added, to forwarding a more globally consistent approach to establishing a secure supply of 99Mo/99mTc.

The OECD/NEA committee’s recommendations reflected a call for greater cooperation between governments and markets, including the induction of periodic reviews of 99Mo supply vulnerabilities by stakeholders across the radioisotope supply chain.