SNM releases plan to address isotope shortage

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Image source: Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA)

In response to the recurring global medical isotope crisis, SNM has issued a call-to-action plan highlighting its commitment to finding a solution to eliminate future molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) supply disruptions.

The plan was issued at the International Medical Isotope Summit during the annual SNM meeting in Toronto, where key stakeholders in the global nuclear medicine industry--physicians, government agencies, corporations that build nuclear facilities and manufacture medical isotopes--met to discuss the isotope crisis.

"This group agreed that the worldwide patient community is facing one of its greatest threats in modern times - the lack of access to a reliable, consistent supply of the most important medical isotopes used in the effective detection and evaluation of patients with cancers, heart and brain diseases and other disorders," according to the SNM communiqué.

They stressed their concern over the fact that the vast majority of the worldwide supply of Mo-99 is produced in nuclear facilities located in only six countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, South Africa and the Netherlands. With approximately 80 nations using Mo-99, and the United States consuming nearly one-half of the worldwide Mo-99 supply, "it is clear that too many demands are being placed on too few facilities."

With the shutdown on the Chalk River facility and the recent announcement that Canada will not be making isotopes within the next decade, the need to remedy the situation is "far more urgent."

Because Mo-99 is currently produced primarily using highly enriched uranium (HEU)-235 (U-235), the same material used to produce nuclear weapons, there are security ramifications related to the use of U-235 in most reactors.

"In addition to ensuring the effective safeguarding of HEUs and their by-products, there must be a systematic and orderly transition from HEUs to less volatile materials, such as low-enriched uranium," according to SNM.

Call to action

In light of these realities, the communique included the following provisions:

  • For the U.S. Congress and Canadian and European Parliaments to appropriate the necessary funding to build new medical isotope production facilities, as well as update existing facilities to ensure that they remain safe and reliable.
  • Support of the transition from HEU to low-enriched uranium (LEU) within a timeframe sufficient to maintain an adequate supply of technetium-99m and to avoid an undue burden on producers and patients.
  • For government regulatory bodies to work in close collaboration with producers, scientists, physicians and others to ensure a clear pathway, free of unreasonable and cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles, so that new and improved facilities can become operational in a timely fashion.
  • For heads of state to demonstrate their commitment to healthcare reform by acting decisively to support efforts, as appropriate, to modernize medical isotope production facilities globally.
  • For builders and operators of nuclear facilities and the companies that produce and distribute medical isotopes to invest more in the future of their companies by doing whatever it takes to provide patients around the world with a stable, predictable supply of medical isotopes.
  • For the medical community to work together with regulators and industry to optimize the utilization of resources during periods of limited supply of Mo-99.

"We are determined to meet quarterly to review progress on our commitments and renew the sense of urgency to resolve the medical isotope shortage crisis, both in the short term and long term," stated SNM. "By acting together to fulfill these pledges in a spirit of public-private partnership, we are confident that we can lift the world out of this serious medical crisis and prevent such dangerous disruptions from recurring in the future."