A shortfall in the production of medical isotopes in Europe has forced hospitals to delay patient scans or offer alternative diagnostic tests. The problems began in August when all three nuclear reactors used to generate molybdenum-99, which then decays to form the key nuclear-imaging agent technetium-99m, had to be unexpectedly shut down at the same time. Technetium-99m is a radioactive isotope with a half-life of six hours that is used in about 80% of all nuclear medical tests to detect bone cancer, heart disease and poorly functioning kidneys. The three reactors in Europe that produce it are HFR (Petten; The Netherlands), BR2 (Mol; Belgium) and OSIRIS (Saclay; France) were shutdown together for an extended period in the second part of 2008. The problem was further compounded by the simultaneous closure of the IRE (Fleurus; Belgium), following a leak of radioactive iodine-131. The IRE is one of the two plants in Europe that extracts molybdenum-99 from uranium targets irradiated at the nuclear reactors.
|Published - Oct 2008