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Canadian nuclear power station on track to begin Mo-99 production

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 07, 2023
Molecular Imaging
Darlington Nuclear Generating Station is now capable of producing Mo-99. (Photo courtesy of Darlington Nuclear)
Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Canada is now capable of producing Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) isotopes, bringing it one step closer to producing a stable domestic supply for North American healthcare providers.

Since the closing of Canada’s National Research Universal reactor in October 2016, hospitals have relied on Mo-99 imports from Europe, Africa and Australia for their nuclear scans.

Laurentis Energy Partners and BWXT Medical have now completed the installation and initial commissioning of their isotope system at Darlington Nuclear, allowing it to continue planned commissioning and prepare for commercial production of Mo-99, a world-first for a commercial power reactor.
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It also is expected to resolve historical shortages of technetium-99m, the product of Mo-99 and one of the most prevalently used diagnostic imaging agents for detecting cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

“Used in over 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures, the availability of this critical isotope will save countless lives,” said Dr. David Laidley, nuclear medicine physician at London Health Sciences Centre, in a statement.

Before commercial production can take place, a validation run is required and will need to be approved by both the FDA and Health Canada.

The equipment from Laurentis and BWXT Medical will make the reactor capable of producing enough Mo-99 to meet a significant portion of current and future North American demand, say both companies.

Whereas previous research reactors have produced Mo-99 using uranium, BWXT Medical’s Tc-99m generator will produce the isotope using natural molybdenum targets irradiated at Darlington Nuclear. This will substantially reduce waste byproducts.

Darlington’s new target delivery system may also be used to produce other medical isotopes. It currently is capable of making helium-3, Mo-99 and tritium, and will soon be able to produce cobalt-60, which is currently extracted from reactors at Pickering.

And because of the facility’s CANDU reactors, any isotope can be produced without disrupting the generation of clean energy.

“This partnership leverages Darlington’s industry-leading operational reliability, the expertise of Laurentis and OPG to provide irradiation services, and BWXT’s proprietary neutron capture process and innovative production technology. It has been a collaborative and industry-leading effort,” said BWXT Medical Ltd. president and CEO Dr. Jonathan Cirtain.

Across the border, in Wisconsin, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes recently produced its first load of non-uranium-based molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) at its new Accelerator Production facility in Beloit. It also completed its equipment installation there in December.

In 2018, it became the first company to produce a domestic supply of Mo-99 for the U.S. in nearly 30 years.

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