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Water leak in nuclear reactor expected to cause medical isotope shortage

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 31, 2022
European News Molecular Imaging

The HFR reactor has been in operation since 1961 and is due to be replaced by the new PALLAS reactor in the 2020s. Construction of the PALLAS reactor is currently underway.

Regulatory review and approval following the discovery of the root cause for the leak will be required before the reactor can resume service, according to SNMMI.

A hydrogen leak in 2017 led to the shutdown of South Africa’s Pelindaba facility, operated by NTP Radioisotopes, for three months. The facility resumed operations in late February 2018. The shutdown cost it 3.5 million rand ($300,885) daily and led to a suspension in both domestic and international orders. This forced providers to temporarily turn to other nuclear sources for support.

The reactor closed again shortly after this in May due to safety issues and did not reopen until November to help with a shortage caused by an 11-day closure of the Open Pool Australian Lightwater (OPAL) reactor in Australia for maintenance.

In 2019, Australia once again shut down its OPAL reactor due to a valve issue. Nuclear medicine experts estimated that the shutdown was expected to impact up to 15,000 patients a week, with doses going only to the most urgent cases. The South African reactor was also down at the same time for maintenance.

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