Radionuclides for Imaging

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Objective for A.11.0

  • Establish a US based source for radionuclides, such as molybdenum-99, which in turn is used to produce technetium-99m, that are essential to certain imaging techniques used in the medical community.

Background: The short half-lived (about 6 hours) isotope, technetium-99m, is used in over 20 million medical diagnostic procedures every year. These range from bone scans in which scintillation counters can depict the image of bone structures through other body internal uses, such as functioning cardiac and brain imaging. Technetium-99m (a meta-stable isotope) is derived from molybdenum-99, which, as noted in the first Policy Consideration above, is now in a critical short supply. Historically, molybdenum-99 has been produced as a by-product from certain nuclear reactors, now being shut-down. At the US Department of Energy conference on "Accelerators for America’s Future,” held in Washington, DC, in October 2009, it was shown that molybdenum-99 could also be produced using a variation of existing cyclotron technology. This approach would eliminate the US presumed need to construct nuclear facilities for the express purpose of producing molybdenum-99. Such nuclear facilities would be costly and require years of planning, permitting and environmental impact studies.

A network of commercial and of in-house cyclotrons is widely used to produce short half-life isotopes for nuclear medicine. Over 200 such cyclotron facilities exist within the US. As recommended in Policy Consideration 1, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are familiar with the operation of isotope producing cyclotrons and are in excellent contact with the entire medical community. NIH could take a lead role in alleviating this shortage of a much needed isotope.

Action Items:

1 – The appropriate congressional funding committees and sub-committees need to be clearly informed of this cyclotron approach to producing isotopes for use in medical imaging areas. This would be a far more cost-effective approach than those being presented based on the construction of smaller nuclear reactors.

2 - Incorporate ideas that are being used in Canada for the use of electron accelerators for the production of Technicium-99m. Explore the benefits of using this alternative (which does not require further NRC/FDA regulation) with a cyclotron alternative.

3 - Consider technologies to use lower enriched uranium to produce Technicium-99m.

Resource Requirements:

1 – Volunteers from the non-Federal employee members of CIRMS to address congressional staffs.