Medical isotope production in Australia: Should we be using reactor based or cyclotron technology? 15th January 2016 Dr Margaret Beavis MBBS FRACGP MPH Medical Association for Prevention of War, Australia Health Professionals Promoting Peace
“…………It is interesting to note that the current ANSTO web page states:
“A recent report (2010) from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency indicates that non-reactor technologies for Mo-99 production are still decades away from fruition, and expresses strong doubts as to whether they could ever substitute for reactor technologies. A 2010 13http://www.triumf.ca/cyclomed99/how-it-works accessed 13/1/2016 14http://www.ansto.gov.au/NuclearFacts/AboutNuclearScience/ReactorsandAccelerators/Cyclotrons/ accessed 13/1/2016 10 article in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging comes to the same conclusion”.
Clearly in 2016 this is not the case. It is surprising and concerning that the enormous and very well publicised technological advances made in Canada are not acknowledged. It is important that ANSTO provides up to date and balanced information to government and the public, so that it is not perceived as behaving like a vested interest.
The research and development of cyclotron production of isotopes has created a significant manufacturing export opening for Canada. There may be an opportunity for the Australian government to partner with the Canadian research, and develop a manufacturing /export based industry in Australia.
Conclusion Australia’s proposal to increase production of isotopes at the OPAL Lucas Heights reactor comes at a turning point in the technology. We have a choice as to whether we continue reactor manufacture, or develop cyclotron capacity in Australia.
Reactor production of isotopes has been shown to be unreliable. On a number of occasions it has resulted in worldwide shortages of supply, due to the unplanned outages that have occurred. Cyclotron use would enable more reliable decentralised isotope production, which will be both cheaper and cleaner.
Reactor production and sale can only occur with significant subisidies from the government (i.e. taxpayers). It is more costly than cyclotron manufacture. Subsidisation of other countries’ health systems at a time when Australia is already financially constrained seems ill advised.
In addition, reactor use for the production of isotopes creates a significant waste burden. 97% of the increased reactor isotope production is planned to be for international sale, so Australia will be left with the reactor waste from this international use. This waste is longlived Intermediate Level Waste which must be safeguarded for tens of thousands of years, as well as shorter-lived Low Level Waste which requires formal disposal.
Provision of subsidised reactor based isotopes internationally is also likely to slow the uptake of cyclotron technology in many countries.
In contrast, cylotron technology is cheaper, less prone to shortages of supply, and does not produce any long lived nuclear waste, and will be commercially feasible in the near future.
ANSTO is a tax payer funded organisation. It should be leading the debate on this issue, and providing accurate and up to date information.
The decision to markedly increase reactor isotope production should be subject to extensive public consultation, given it will have repercussions that include the need for major subsidies, less reliability of supply for nuclear medical care and result in the production of waste that will impact on future generations for millennia. https://www.mapw.org.au/files/downloads/Medical%20isotope%20production%20MAPW%20Background%20paper%20with%20exec%20summary.pdf