Frequently Asked Questions
- What is molybdenum-99 and technetium-99?
- How much Mo-99 is needed in Australia?
- What is the global demand for Mo-99?
A. Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) is a radioisotope which is used in hospitals and medical centres to make technetium-99 (Tc-99m), the most widely-used radioisotope in nuclear medicine.
Tc-99m is used mainly for selective imaging of organs and soft tissues such as the lungs, bone, brain, liver and kidneys – enabling an effective diagnosis.
The Mo-99 is supplied to some 250 hospitals and medical centres in the region utilising an ANSTO-designed radiopharmaceutical generator, the Gentech Generator®, a shielded device which enables the radionuclide to safely undergo its radioactive decay to become Tc-99m, while in transit.
A. In Australia alone, each year 550,000 people receive a diagnosis using Mo-99. This is produced at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and distributed to more than 250 Australian and New Zealand hospitals and medical centres in the Gentech Generator® shielded containers.
A. World demand for Mo-99 is large and growing, as more countries develop modern medical systems. It is estimated that Mo-99 is used in 45 million procedures worldwide every year.
There are only a small number of reactors in the world used to produce Mo-99, and the reactors responsible for seventy per cent of the world’s current Mo-99 production are due to cease production in the next few years. Currently most of the global Mo-99 supply is produced in reactors fuelled by highly enriched uranium. With medical modernisation in developing countries, global Mo-99 demand will continue to grow.
A. Currently most of the world’s supply of Mo-99 is produced in ageing reactors fuelled by highly enriched uranium. The fact is highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons.
ANSTO’s OPAL reactor is one of the few reactors world-wide that uses low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. In addition to this, ANSTO’s Mo-99 is produced from the irradiation of low enriched uranium target plates. The development of this facility significantly strengthens Australia’s position as an important contributor to global nuclear security and non-proliferation.
A. Sourcing Mo-99 or managing Mo-99 by-products internationally would be less reliable and more expensive due to a number of factors including:
- Reactor availability: Global supply of nuclear medicine is under threat with many of the world’s current reactors due to be shut down between 2015 and 2020;
- Increasing demand: With medical modernisation in developing countries, global Mo-99 demand is increasing;
- Maintaining safety: The new Synroc plant will showcase Australian innovation and manufacturing capability and improve international management of Mo-99 by-products.
A. The new Mo-99 manufacturing facility has reached practical completion. This means that ANSTO can take the final steps to ready to facility for production.
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