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Molybdenum-99 Shortage Predicted

An isotope used to make radiopharmaceuticals for applications in nuclear medicine imaging could be in short supply when a Canadian nuclear reactor discontinues production of molybdenum-99 next month. In a new report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine predicts a "severe" global medical isotope shortage is likely.

The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report believes that shortages could begin as early as October 2016. Committee chair S. James Adelstein of Harvard Medical School said in a news release, “Although there are plans from both existing international suppliers and potential domestic suppliers to fill the expected supply gap from Canada, the committee is concerned that any delays in bringing additional supplies of molybdenum-99 to the market would increase the risks of substantial shortages.” 

The U.S. currently consumes about half of all molybdenum-99 produced worldwide, but has not commercially produced the radioisotope since 1989. Nearly 95% of the world’s supply of molybdenum-99 is produced by irradiating targets — typically a solid plate containing uranium clad in aluminum — in reactors located in Australia, Canada, Europe and South Africa. 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized new production facilities in Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida. However, no domestic commercial production will be established before Canada stops producing molybdenum-99.

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