Supply shortages of molybdenum-99 could become commonplace over the next decade unless longer-term actions are taken. That is the main conclusion of a report from the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Published by the NEA's High-level Group on the Security of Supply of Medical Radioisotopes (HLG-MR), the report points out that more than 90% of the world's molybdenum-99 is produced by just five research reactors. These facilities are all 43–50 years old and two – NRU in Canada and OSIRIS in France – are expected to stop production by 2016.
Currently, all of the world's nine major isotope-producing reactors are running – one each in Canada, South Africa, Australia and Argentina and five in Europe. However, the HLG-MR report cautions that shortages could be expected as demand continues to grow, some reactors are shut down and constraints remain on regional processing capacity.
Molybdenum-99 has a half-life of 66 h, which is not long enough for the isotope to be stockpiled. It is produced by irradiating a target containing uranium-235 inside a nuclear reactor. The molybdenum-99 is then extracted from the target in a processing facility. The uranium targets cannot be transported by air, which means that processing should be located less than 1000 km from the reactor.
A new large processing facility would cost about $200m to build. According to the report, this is a "significant investment to be made for an industry where there is uncertainty around reliability of irradiation services and a revenue stream that does not currently support the economic sustainability of the industry".
As a result of this impending crunch, there are currently about a dozen new facilities on the drawing board, most of which are expected to come online by 2015. If all proposed facilities are built, no supply problems are expected assuming 2% growth in demand. However, when problems of processing capacity and the possibility that some projects will not proceed are factored in, the world could again face shortages by about 2021.
I have not heard that there are more facilities on the drawing board--- or rather, that is the only place they are...on the drawing board, because my understanding is that there are NO plans to replace the soon to be closed facilities. ADMD is in a strong position to come help with the world's supply regardless of future facilities.