Russia looks to expand global radioisotope supplies

22 June 2016

The supply of Russian radioisotope products to Brazil has allowed the Brazilian government to reduce by half the costs of inputs that help diagnose and treat various cancers, according to Jair Mengatti, production director of Brazil's Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). Over the past years, IPEN, the main producer of radiopharmaceuticals in Brazil, has had problems getting inputs such as Iodine-131, now 100% imported from Russia. "Up until the end of last year, our supplier was from Canada, but after the bidding process, we went to Russia for our supplies. We saved around $100,000 a week," he said.

Representatives of IPEN held talks with Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom's isotope supplier, V/O Isotop, during ATOMPEXPO in Moscow in early June. IPEN and V/O Izotop have cooperated in isotope products supplies, in particular, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), since 2015. In the first quarter of 2016, the range of products supplied by V/O Izotop was broadened to include iodine-131.

V/O Izotop currently counts among its trading partners more than 100 foreign companies located in 30 countries and more than 600 organizations in Russia, including medical institutions, industrial enterprises and scientific organizations. The company plans to start supplies of Mo-99 to Europe at the end of 2016, V/O Izotop first deputy director general Alexei Vakulenko told journalists ATOMEXPO.

"Three large companies operate in Europe: IBA/CisBio of France, GE Healthcare of UK, and Polatom of Poland. We are at different stages of negotiations with all of these companies and are moving towards starting supplies," Vakulenko said. The strategic task of V/O Izotop is to enter the European radiopharmaceutical market and the company is "working to set up state-of-the-art production which meets international standards," he noted. He said that the 10-year portfolio of orders of the company was about $250m.

Rosatom plans to increase production of Mo-99 through several projects. The most ambitious of these is the construction of a compact "Argus" nuclear reactor. The first such reactor (20kWt) was built and put into operation at the beginning of the 1980s at the "Kurchatov Institute". The new "Argus" will have a capacity of 50kWt and will use low-enriched uranium fuel which will be replaced every 10 years. Basil Urozhenko, head of Rosatom's "Rusatom Energy International" said a radioisotope complex based on the Argus can be built in three to four years. He said "many of the major players" had already shown interest in the technology which would produce isotope much more cheaply than in a conventional reactor.

Rosatom has begun co-operation with industrial enterprises, in particular, the chief designer and manufacturer, joint-stock company "Red Star". A pilot project for an updated "Argus" will be sited at the Federal Nuclear Centre - All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF) in Sarov and is planned to be commissioned in 2018-2019. International Energy Rusatom says the reactor will pay for itself in 7-10 years at current Mo-99 prices.

Meanwhile, a contract was signed in March for delivery of Russian isotopes to Europe. The Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR) signed a long-term contract with the Swiss company GSG International (part of the international group of companies Gamma Service Group) to provide of transportation and logistics services to deliver Russian-made isotopes to European customers. The contract is valid until March 2019, NIIAR's statement said.

Currently NIIAR transports radioisotopes produced on site to other enterprises in Russia and CIS, as well as to Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, France and other European countries. The special-purpose truck fleet includes more than ten vehicles. In 2015 over 200 trips to deliver radioisotopes.

The commercial production of Mo-99 is also planned to begin at Russia's Electrochemical Plant (ECP), according to deputy director general for non-nuclear business development Sergey Karaulov. Currently ECP produces 95 stable isotopes of 19 chemical elements, supplying over 35% of the world market. In 2016 work will continue on the project to build up the commercial production of Mo-99 and generators ??-99/??-99m using new technology.

ECP already has experience in production of six isotopes of molybdenum enriched from 97% up to 99.9% (??-92, ??-94, ??-97, ??-98, ??-100).

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