A subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Canadian Nuclear Partners (CNP), is partnering with US-based BWX Technologies to help produce radioactive isotopes for medical use at the Darlington NPP, Canadian media reported on 20 June. It will become the world’s first large-scale commercial station to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the precursor required to make technetium-99 (Tc-99m) used in medical imaging.
The Crown Corporation says the Candu reactors at Darlington can produce molybdenum-99 while still generating electricity, allowing for a continuous supply of the radioisotope. Use of Candu reactors, which use natural uranium fuel, also removes the proliferation risk associated with the conventional production of Mo-99 by the irradiation of enriched uranium targets. Production is expected to start by the end of 2019, subject to Canadian regulatory reviews and approvals.
The domestic and world supply of medical isotopes was disrupted after Canada’s National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in Chalk River Chalk ended the production of Mo-99 in 2016, requiring increased production by reactors in Europe, Africa and Australia. OPG said producing molybdenum-99 in Canada will secure the domestic supply of the isotope. The ageing NRU, which once produced about 40% of the world’s supply of medical isotopes, was closed earlier this year. In recent years, there have been interruptions in supply when both Chalk River and the other production reactors were periodically shut down for repair and maintenance.
Mo-99 produced at Darlington will be shipped to a BWXT-acquired facility in Kanata, Ontario, where it will be processed into Tc-99m before being shipped in “generators” to hospitals, said CNP president Glenn Jager. “The reactors at Darlington, they’re large reactors, there’s four of them and they’re almost always operating,” Jager said. “So we have the ability to produce a fairly large amount of this material to meet the demand of the North American market. “Our initial plan is to modify two of the four, but certainly all four can be modified if the demand is there.”
Darlington’s reactors are currently undergoing a CAD12.8bn ($9bn) refurbishment programme which is scheduled for completion by 2026 and which will enable the plant to operate for a 30 more years.