European radioisotope supply woes continue

September 30, 2008

The High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, the primary source for the molybdenum-99 crucial to diagnostic nuclear imaging in Europe, will remain shut down until at least the end of November while officials devise a strategy to plug a gas leak.

The High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, the primary source for the molybdenum-99 crucial to diagnostic nuclear imaging in Europe, will remain shut down until at least the end of November while officials devise a strategy to plug a gas leak.

The facility's operator, the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG), announced Sept. 17 that it has canceled the cycle of reactor production for Oct. 25 to Nov. 23. According to an English-language news release, the agency is in contact with customers regarding sources of potential alternative supplies of Mo-99, a reactor-generated radioistope that is essential for the production of technetium-99m. Tc-99m is used in about eight of every 10 diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures.

The Petten facility has been shut down since Aug. 26 after a gas leak was discovered during routine maintenance. The reactor reportedly covers about 60% of the European demand for Mo-99.

The outage triggered a widespread Tc-99m shortage across the continent that worsened because three other isotope-producing reactors in Europe were also down. The Osiris reactor in Saclay, France, is scheduled to restart in late September after routine maintenance. The BR-2 reactor at Mol ceased operations during equipment upgrades that may not be completed until mid-October.

The reactor at the Institut des Radioéléments (IRE) in Fleurus, Belgium, is out of commission during an investigation of an iodine-131 leak through the plant's chimney. As of mid-September, IRE officials hoped to resume isotope production from the plant by the beginning of October.

Petten is also the primary source of isotope for Covidien, a U.S.-based provider of Tc-99m generators headquartered in Hazelwood, MO. Covidien reported in a Sept. 10 letter to its generator customers that it had increased its orders with two alternative reactor sources, but the firm could not predict the long-term extent of increased isotope production from those suppliers. It warned customers that they could receive daily shipments of Mo-99 as small as 20% of their normal consignment through September.

Inspectors have isolated the problem at Petten to corrosion on the concrete side of the vessel and associated damage to aluminum material in the vessel, according to the NRG. The group plans to choose between one of two possible repair options before Oct. 3.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging website:

Producers deny blame for European radioisotope shortage

European nuclear medicine services respond to technetium supply crisis

Nuclear medicine braces for effects of Petten reactor shutdown