Belgium’s Institute for Radioelements (IRE) has produced its first commercial molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) low enriched uranium (LEU) batch for the US market.
“This conversion to LEU represents a key milestone for IRE in the global commitment to end the civil use of high enriched uranium (HEU) for the production of Mo-99 medical isotopes,” the institute noted.
IRE had received approval for the process from the Belgian regulator, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), despite restrictions imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, it said.
This is the first step in “the complex development of an entirely new industrial process to supply healthcare professionals with Mo-99” and will very soon include the production of iodine -131 (I-131), an essential radionuclide for thyroid cancer treatments, based on LEU.
Conversion to LEU will positively impact safety and security onsite, IRE noted.
This first production was completed with uranium targets irradiated in the BR2, a 100MW high-flux materials testing reactor located at SCK-CEN in Mol, Belgium. The BR2 reactor entered operation in 1963 and has been refurbished twice (in 1995–1997 and again in 2016).
IRE said it would conduct this conversion in progressive steps, in the coming months, with a dedicated volume of the Mo-99 produced supplying the US market.
Later, it plans to increase the volume to enable the supply of LEU-based Mo-99 to all regions, “until the full conversion is achieved, at the latest by 2022”.
IRE said it would do its best to maintain until then a sufficient level of HEU-based production to validate its final industrial process for the purification of I-131 LEU. At the same time it will allow all its clients to convert their regulatory files for I-131 based products.
"Despite the restrictions related to the health crisis, IRE has continued its efforts and has made it possible to collaborate in the implementation of our national strategy for the production of medical radioisotopes," said Marie-Christine Marghem, Belgium's minister of energy, environment and sustainable development and minister responsible for IRE.
"I intend to maintain Belgian expertise in this area while respecting our international commitments to fight proliferation. Moreover, the completion of this project underlines the importance of funding research dedicated to medical solutions," she said.
Photo: Core of BR2 (Credit: SCK.CEN)