ACNP and SNM to support effortto build new molybdenum reactors

January 17, 1996

Plan will require increase in molybdenum pricesThe American College of Nuclear Physicians and the Society ofNuclear Medicine are poised to issue a letter of support for NordionInternational's plan to build two new nuclear reactors to

Plan will require increase in molybdenum prices

The American College of Nuclear Physicians and the Society ofNuclear Medicine are poised to issue a letter of support for NordionInternational's plan to build two new nuclear reactors to producemolybdenum-99, the raw material for technetium-99m. The plan willprobably include a price increase for molybdenum-99 to manufacturersof technetium, which is the most commonly used radioisotope innuclear medicine.

The nuclear medicine community's reliance on a single nuclearreactor for most of its supply of molybdenum-99 has long beena dilemma for clinicians. That facility, the National ResearchUniversal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario,produces 80% of the world's supply of molybdenum-99 and 100% ofthe molybdenum-99 used in the U.S. and Japan. Nordion, of Kanata,Ontario, buys molybdenum-99 from Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd.(AECL), and sells it to manufacturers of technetium-99m generators.

That supply has been imperiled several times in recent years.Late last year, workers at the NRU reactor set a strike deadlineand threatened to walk out in a labor dispute with AECL, the Canadiangovernment agency that operates the reactor. The union and AECLsettled the dispute without a walkout.

In another incident earlier in 1995, a fuel rod became stuckin the reactor, shutting it down for four days. There was no interruptionin molybdenum-99 supply due to a backup plan set in motion byNordion (SCAN 6/7/95).

Adding to the sense of urgency is the impending deadline forthe shutdown of the NRU reactor. The facility is scheduled tobe decommissioned in 2000.

To fill the void left by NRU and stabilize the supply of molybdenum-99,Nordion has developed a plan that calls for the construction oftwo new reactors, Maple I and Maple II, scheduled to be onlineand producing molybdenum before the NRU reactor shuts down. Theplan will give the nuclear medicine community both a primary molybdenum-99reactor and a backup in case of problems. Nordion will own andoperate the reactors, which will be located on AECL property.

Construction of Maple I began several years ago, although workon the reactor has been halted due to a commercial dispute betweenNordion and AECL (SCAN 11/17/93). Nordion hopes to have the disputeresolved shortly and to resume work on Maple I, according to IanMumford, vice president of public affairs for Nordion. The datefor construction of Maple II to begin has not been determined.

The sticking point in Nordion's plan is the project's pricetag. Nuclear reactors don't come cheap, and Nordion anticipatesthat it will spend $140 million building both facilities, accordingto Mumford. To fund the effort, the company has told the nuclearmedicine community that it will have to raise molybdenum-99 pricesto manufacturers of technetium generators, perhaps by as muchas 40%.

Technetium is used in many of the most popular radiopharmaceuticals,such as Du Pont's Cardiolite, and is finding increased use asa low-cost alternative to more expensive radioisotopes. Technetiummakes up about 1% to 5% of the total cost of a radiopharmaceutical,according to the SNM.

The ACNP and SNM have signed on to Nordion's plan and willissue a letter supporting the program, including the price increase.The letter will be published in the January issue of the Journalof Nuclear Medicine, according to Edward Silberstein, a professorof medicine and radiology at the University of Cincinnati. Silbersteinalso heads the SNM's radiopharmaceutical task force.

"The ACNP and SNM support Nordion's action," he said."Both societies concede that a modest price increase is anacceptable alternative to no molybdenum."

The support of the nuclear medicine community was a major factorin Nordion's decision to take on such a massive project, accordingto Mumford.

"Clearly, the message we've had from customers is thattheir number-one issue is having a reliable backup for the worldsupply of molybdenum," Mumford said. "This will meetthat requirement."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy is moving its planforward to produce molybdenum-99 using a reactor at Sandia NationalLaboratories in Albuquerque, NM (SCAN 6/7/95). The DOE is takingpublic comments on a draft environmental impact statement coveringthe project. The agency hopes to begin producing molybdenum-99this year.