News FocusNUCLEAR MEDICINE

Scrambling to Close the Isotope Gap

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Science  21 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6015, pp. 277-279
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6015.277

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Summary

Two reactors, one in the Netherlands and the other in Canada, produce 60% of the world's radioactive molybdenum-99, which decays into technetium-99, a radioisotope used in more than 30 million procedures a year worldwide for imaging everything from blood flow through the heart to bone cancer—and both reactors are decades beyond their intended life expectancy. The situation isn't just a problem for doctors and patients. Governments around the world are working to phase out civilian uses of the technology to produce nearly all Mo-99 today because of concerns that the highly radioactive material used in the process could be diverted to make nuclear weapons. And finding replacement technologies to produce the Mo-99, and companies willing to take the financial risk of generating it, is proving challenging.