It’s well-known that when Canada’s Chalk River reactor went offline, a worldwide isotope shortage followed almost immediately. Since then, providers have been developing solutions to the problem, waiting anxiously for the reactivation of the National Research Universal (NRU) north of the U.S. border.

However, even when it comes back online, the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) warns that the radioisotope shortage will not be solved.

While the SNM describes itself as “cautiously optimistic” about Chalk River resuming production, Robert W. Atcher, Ph.D., M.B.A., chair of the SNM’s Domestic Isotope Availability Work Group, said in a press release that “this is not a magic bullet, and NRU coming back online will not solve this crisis. As the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission staff are reported to have observed, gaps in the assessment of the reactor could have a serious impact on the reliability of the reactor’s operation in the future.”

The reactor was unexpectedly shutdown in May 2009 when workers discovered a leak during a routine inspection. Until that time, the NRU produced about 35% of the world’s supply of Mo-99 whose decay product, Tc-99m, is the most commonly used radioisotope in the world. The United States uses about 50% of the Tc-99m produced worldwide.

Compounding the possibility of a long-term crisis is an earlier announcement that the Canadian government plans to permanently close the NRU in 2016. The U.S. Congress has been tackling the problem of the radioisotope shortage on Capitol Hill. The American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276) would provide funding for the production of a domestic isotope supply. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last fall, and is currently in the Senate.

(Source: Press Release)