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MU Expert Explains Dangers of Relying on Foreign-Produced Radioisotopes

Canadian Shortage of a Radioactive Substance Used in Medical Scans Causes Delays for Patients

Dec. 12, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, (573) 882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Canada has caused medical testing delays for thousands of patients in the United States because of a shortage of technetium-99m, a radioactive substance used in medical scans for cancer, heart disease, and bone and kidney illnesses.
 Technetium-99m is produced from the decay of the radioisotope molybdenum-99. The Ontario reactor that produces molybdenum-99 for MDS Nordion has been shutdown since Nov. 18 and is not expected to operate again until mid-January. Due to limited production capabilities and a very short shelf life, it is not possible to stockpile this radioactive substance. The MU Research Reactor (MURR), however, is working to become a domestic source of molybdenum-99.

  “Any disruption to the United States import of molybdenum-99, such as a closing of the United States borders to the shipment of radioactive materials due to a security event, will devastate the United States medical community’s ability to diagnose and treat thousands of patients daily,” said Ralph Butler, director of the MURR Center. “The MURR Center has the potential to supply about 50 percent of the
U.S. nuclear medicine community’s weekly molybdenum-99 demand using low-enriched uranium.”

 Currently, the United States relies on foreign sources for its supply of molybdenum-99, as there is no domestic production of the substance. It is estimated that the radioactive substance is used in at least 15 million medical scans a year in the United States.

 “In order for MU to become a domestic supplier of molybdenum-99, a substantial capital investment is required to design, build and license a radioisotope production facility as an addition to the existing MURR Center,” Butler said. “We are early in our feasibility study, but we believe that MURR could produce enough molybdenum-99 to meet at least half of the U. S. need.”

 Butler came to the MU Research Reactor as chief operations officer in August 2000 and has been its director since August 2001. He has more than 30 years of nuclear experience in the management, oversight and operation of U.S. Navy, commercial and U.S. Department of Energy facilities, both domestic and international.