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Report of the Task Force on Alternatives for Medical Isotope Production


A Task Force on Alternatives for Medical-Isotope Production will be formed to discuss, analyze, and evaluate options for using high-power accelerators to generate high-volume quantities of medical isotopes for Canada and its global markets. The group of experts will be convened by TRIUMF and the University of British Columbia with suggestions from relevant federal agencies and national organizations. The Task Force will hold a 1.5-day meeting facilitated by Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc. The invitation-only meeting will take place October 19-20, 2008, in Vancouver. A concise written report will be prepared within 21 days of the workshop. The report will be publicly available for dissemination and the workshop leaders will make themselves available for briefings, commentary, and subsequent discussion.

The organizers gratefully acknowledge support from Natural Resources Canada with contributions from TRIUMF and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc.


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Canada is well known for its production of more than half the global supply of medical isotopes, particularly molybdenum-99 (99Mo). The vast majority of these isotopes are presently produced using a research reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, known as the NRU, with operations overseen by AECL. About four other reactors around the world provide the balance of global supplies. Concerns about the age, safety, and reliability of these reactors operations (worldwide) have caused concerns about potential shortages of medical isotopes. The Vancouver Sun reported on 28 August 2008 that, “It is impossible for the Chalk River, Ont., nuclear reactor to meet the global demand of medical isotopes, even as it ramps up production following warnings of a worldwide shortage, says a spokesperson for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.”

As Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, TRIUMF is the nation’s steward for accelerator science and technology. The laboratory is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of Canadian universities. It is operated through a contribution via National Research Council Canada with buildings funds historically provided by the Province of British Columbia. TRIUMF has a 30-year partnership with MDS Nordion in the production of medical isotopes using cyclotron accelerator technologies at its Vancouver site. Traditionally, the isotopes produced with accelerators have been distinct and separate from those produced using a nuclear reactor. TRIUMF has developed world-leading prowess in accelerator production of medical isotopes and together with partners across the country, has cutting-edge expertise in the chemistry and medical applications.

As a science and technology laboratory serving Canada, TRIUMF has identified a technology that may provide alternatives to the present scheme for production of medical isotopes. Rather than using nuclear-reactor generated neutrons to fission uranium atoms, photons produced from a high-power electron accelerator could be employed. Together with several partners, TRIUMF will convene a Task Force on Alternatives for Medical-Isotope Production to explore this option and to examine a case for action. Support from Natural Resources Canada has been provided to cover costs required to organize, convene, and operate the Task Force.


Composition of the Task Force


Please see biographical sketches for background on each participant.

  • Nigel Lockyer, TRIUMF (Co-convener)
  • Tom Ruth, TRIUMF and BC Cancer Agency (Co-convener)
  • Pierre Bricault, TRIUMF
  • Mark De Jong, Canadian Light Source
  • William "Bill" Diamond, AECL
  • Marik Dombsky, TRIUMF
  • Phil Gardner, AAPS, Inc.
  • Shane Koscielniak, TRIUMF
  • Jean-Pierre Labrie, AECL
  • Sandy McEwan, University of Alberta
  • Lia Merminga, TRIUMF
  • Saed Mirzadeh, U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Herb Moore, Dupont (retired)
  • Jean-Michel Poutissou, TRIUMF
  • John Root, NRC Canadian Neutron Beam Centre
  • David Tucker, McMaster University
  • Anne Trudel, TRIUMF
  • John Valliant, McMaster Institute of Applied Radiation Sciences and Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization
  • George Vandegrift, U.S. Argonne National Laboratory
  • Dennis Wester, MDS Nordion
  • Ann Fong, AAPS, Inc. (Executive Staff)
  • Timothy I. Meyer, TRIUMF (Executive Staff)

Invited Guests/Observers

  • Abdul Alwani, CNSC
  • Christopher Heysel, McMaster University
  • Rod Huggins, Health Canada
  • Edward Odishaw, AAPS, Inc.
  • Stephen Owen, University of British Columbia


Charge to the Task Force

  1. Briefly characterize Canada's present production capabilities for medical isotopes. Comment on global supplies and demands.
  2. Analyze and validate options for using accelerator-based photo fission techniques to produce medical isotopes. Identify trade-offs with existing nuclear-reactor technologies, make comparisons between the two approaches, and make projections about full-scale production capabilities of an accelerator option.
  3. Develop a realistic option for accelerator-based production of medical isotopes, particularly 99Mo, providing design and performance parameters, and, as much as possible, a basis for computing total project cost. Comment on schedule and how such a device would reinforce Canada’s supply of isotopes and secure the health of Canadian citizens.
  4. Identify steps for moving forward and define any laboratory benchmarks that will validate the design. Examine opportunities for enhancing Canada’s economic competitiveness in this regard.


The Task Force will begin work in advance of the 1.5-day workshop with several discussions and coordinated homework assignments. The invitation-only workshop is scheduled for October 19-20, 2008, in Vancouver. The Task Force will prepare a draft report shortly after the workshop. Three or four leading experts will be asked to review the report (for clarity and relevance to the Charge) in advance of its public release. The report will be released to the public as an electronic document with printed copies available in limited quantity upon written request.

A draft agenda is available.



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Additional background material can be found at the following links.