Progress being made toward Mo-99 production at Darlington

September 29, 2020, 12:25PMNuclear News

Darlington nuclear generating station. Photo: OPG

Ontario Power Generation, its subsidiary Laurentis Energy Partners, and BWXT ITG Canada and its affiliates announced on September 24 that the companies are making “significant progress” toward the production of molybdenum-99 at OPG’s Darlington nuclear power plant. Darlington will become the first commercial operating nuclear reactor to produce the medical radioisotope.

A precursor to technetium-99m, Mo-99 is used in more than 40 million procedures a year to detect cancers and diagnose various medical conditions.

Over the past 24 months, a team of more than 100 BWXT and Laurentis personnel designed tooling at BWXT’s facility in Peterborough, Ontario. The tooling, which will be used to deliver molybdenum targets into the Darlington reactor for irradiation, is currently being manufactured at the Peterborough facility.

Background: BWXT announced in June 2108 that it was working with OPG to produce Mo-99 at the four-unit Darlington plant in Ontario, Canada. According to BWXT, the design of Darlington’s CANDU reactors allows for the insertion and removal of molybdenum targets into the reactor while in operation, ensuring OPG’s ability to irradiate targets on a reliable basis. As CANDU reactors use natural uranium as fuel, Mo-99 can be produced without the proliferation concerns related to the use of high-enriched uranium.

At the time of the original announcement, BWXT said that it expected to begin the production of Mo-99 at Darlington, subject to Canadian regulatory reviews and approvals, by the end of 2019. The company did not indicate in its latest announcement when it expects production to begin.

Before it ceased production in 2016, Canada’s National Research Universal reactor produced about 40 percent of the world’s supply of Mo-99. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories permanently shut down the reactor in 2018. Since then, the U.S. and Canadian governments have been seeking to build alternative supply sources of the radioisotope for the North American market.

Quotes: Martyn Coombs, president of BWXT ITG, said, “We are well under way with the transformation of our nuclear medicine facility in Ottawa to be able to process Mo-99 and manufacture Tc-99m generators. These generators will be used to make radiopharmaceuticals for patients and will help to resolve historical shortages of this vital product.”

Jean Nash, clinical manager of molecular imaging for Canada’s University Health Network, said, “Over the last 10 years, there has been a reduction in the accessibility of radioisotopes, and this supply issue has only been exacerbated with the onset of COVID. A new, reliable supply will allow for more stable access to medical isotopes and support hospitals and clinicians in Ontario, Canada, and beyond to provide better patient care.”

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