The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is importing technetium-99m (Tc-99m) generators from the USA to supply Australian hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical suppliers, while engineers and regulatory staff work to re-start ANSTO’s processing and distribution facility following a breakdown of a conveyor belt. The US-supplied medicine is ongoing, although not without disruptions, ANSTO said on 20 July. More than 10,000 doses s week are provided to 250 medical facilities in Australia.

Tc-99m is produced by the decay of the parent isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). Both Tc-99m and the Mo-99 used to produce it inside a Tc-99m generator are very short-lived making a reliable and steady supply necessary. ANSTO produces the Mo-99 and places it in Tc-99m generators to provide 10,000 doses a week for Australian patients, as well as exporting generators to New Zealand and Asia. However, production of Tc-99m generators was suspended on 22 June, after the failure of a conveyor belt. 

“While the breakdown has now been fixed, compliance checks to restart the facility will take some weeks, but importantly we have secured supplies for Australian patients,” an ANSTO spokesperson said. “ANSTO apologises for the impact this has had, and it is a priority for our organisation to resume local manufacture and distribution of nuclear medicine as soon as possible.”

Operations at ANSTO's OPAL reactor and the production of other radioisotopes have not been affected by the suspension. Once the conveyor belt breakdown is fully resolved, ANSTO will undertake a comprehensive mechanical review of the Mo-99 processing and distribution facility that has been in operation for several decades. 

ANSTO also confirmed that it is finalising appointment of an external reviewer and expert team to conduct an independent third-party review and report on best workplace health and safety practice in the same facility. This is in relation to a separate event, and in line with a direction received from the independent regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

“Since August last year, improvements have been made to procedures and instructions, training, the physical equipment, event reporting and the safety culture, the spokesperson said. The objective is to identify what can be done to make the Mo-99 processing and distribution facility operate better from a mechanical perspective, and to raise the standard of safety performance.