Australia to expand isotope production
The Australian government is expanding the country ś production of medical radioisotopes and constructing a demonstration waste treatment plant for managing the subsequent radioactive by-products.
Minister for science and research Chris Evans recently announced a A$168 million ($172 million) investment plan to construct a nuclear medicine manufacturing plant at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's (Ansto's) Lucas Heights site near Sydney, where the low-enriched uranium Open Pool Australian Lightwater (Opal) reactor is in operation.
The nuclear medicine manufacturing plant will mainly produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the source of technetium-99 (Tc-99), which is used for diagnosis of heart disease, cancers, and kidney and gastrointestinal tract disorders.
Russian isotope meeting
An international business conference was held in Moscow, Russia, on 1-2 October to discuss the production, transportation and market of radioisotopes.
Speaking at the conference, Boris Akakiev, acting director general of event organizer Isotope, said that the current global isotope market is worth some $4.8 billion, with medical radioisotopes accounting for about 80% of this. The USA, he said, represents half of the global market, with Western Europe accounting for around 20%. The market is expected to grow 10.4% annually, according to Akakiev, reaching some $8 billion by 2017.
Michael Batkov of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom said that the company plans to expand its supply of isotopes and equipment to new markets. About two-thirds of Russia's current isotope production is exported, he said. Rosatom plans to increase its marketing activities in what it sees as key potential markets: Latin America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
Rosatom expects to sign an agreement by the end of the year with GSG of Germany for the joint global distribution of new technology for the production of molybdenum-99, Rosatom deputy director general Vyacheslav Pershukov said. "We can say that we and our colleagues from Germany's GSG have developed a new Mo-99 alkaline production technology," he announced.
Ansto CEO Adi Paterson commented: "Already Ansto produces half a million doses of nuclear medicine a year which we distribute to more than 200 hospitals and medical centres." He added, "Through the expansion enabled by this plan, Ansto will go from supplying the medicine one in two Australians need, to significantly contributing to the global nuclear medicine community along with its partners."
"Today is an important day for the 550,000 people who require a nuclear medicine procedure in Australia each year, as well as the 45 million people across the globe who will be able to access Australian-produced nuclear medicine," Evans said. This initiative will help meet 25% of the world's needs for Mo-99. The plan, Evans noted, would create some 250 jobs and "deliver a $1 billion return to Australia."
The collocated waste treatment plant will use Synroc, a suite of technologies developed by Ansto for immobilising various forms of intermediate- and high-level radioactive wastes for disposal. It is a ceramic made from several natural minerals which together incorporate into their crystal structures nearly all of the elements present in high-level radioactive waste. According to Ansto, Synroc can reduce the volume of nuclear by-products by 99% (compared with other methods such as cementation).
The Synroc-treated waste will be sent from Lucas Heights to the national radioactive waste management facility - planned in Muckaty Station, Northern Territory - once it has been sited, constructed and licensed.
Ansto said that the Synroc facility "will deliver a permanent, safe and economical way of treating waste from past, current and future manufacture of nuclear medicines."
Planning for the nuclear medicine manufacturing plant and Synroc plant is already underway, with construction set to start in 2014. Full production is expected to start in 2016.