The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto) expects to begin full-scale production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in 2017, producing 10m doses a year. Its AUD168m ($128m) investment programme is designed to take Australia from producing predominantly domestic supplies to around 25% of world demand. Ansto said on 5 August that, during the latest stage of work, 10 radiation-resistant hot cells are being delivered and installed by the end of November at the Ansto site at Lucas Heights, which is also the site of the Opal research reactor.
In Australia, Ansto produces around 10,000 patient doses of Mo-99 a week which is distributed to more than 250 hospitals and nuclear medicine centres across the country. Nuclear medicine is a cornerstone of medical systems, particularly Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) derived from Mo-99, which is used to diagnose heart, lung and skeletal conditions including cancer. World demand for Mo-99 is currently about 40m doses a year and it is increasing as more countries industrialise, and modernise their health systems. However, supply is under threat, with just a few reactors producing over 90% of the Mo-99 National Research Universal (NRU) in Canada (30-40%), HFR in Netherlands (30%), BR-2 in Belgium (10%), Osiris in France (5%), Maria in Poland (5%), Safari-1 in South Africa (10-15%) and OPAL in Australia (5%). Apart from Poland’s Maria and OPAL, they have been operating for around 50 years. Canada’s NRU began operating in 1957 and is due to close this October.
Ansto’s general manager for business development, Doug Cubbin, said the Opal reactor has been operating for 10 years based on low-enriched uranium (LEU) technology. “Now we are going to take that LEU technology and apply it on a world-scale, driving down demand for highly enriched uranium, and contributing to global non-proliferation and nuclear security goals.”