NRG in Petten, in collaboration with its partner company Curium, is the first facility in Europe to have stopped using highly enriched uranium in the production of medical isotopes. Hospitals now only receive Molybdenum, an important isotope made of low-enriched uranium. With this, the Netherlands fulfills the agreements made with American President Obama.
In the context of the non-proliferation treaty, it was agreed worldwide to ban the use of highly enriched uranium. This because it can be used for the creation of nuclear weapons. During the nuclear summit in The Hague in 2014, US President Barack Obama finally agreed with France, Belgium and the Netherlands to switch from high to low enriched uranium in the production of medical isotopes.
Every day, 30,000 patients worldwide are properly treated thanks to medical isotopes from the reactor in Petten. To eliminate the risk of abuse of highly enriched uranium, the reactor switched to low-enriched uranium as fuel in 2006. The Netherlands was also at the forefront during this transition. In order to be able to do the same in the production of medical isotopes, the production process at NRG and Curium had to be modified, and a long and complicated process had to be followed in order to guarantee equal quality of the end product. A successful milestone was thus achieved for NRG.
"Together with Curium, we play a pioneering role and send an important signal to all countries. Namely, that you do not need highly enriched uranium for the production of medical isotopes", says Philippe Brouwers Business Director NRG. "This way we actually achieve a kind of Fairtrade quality certificate for medical isotopes, but from a non-proliferation point of view. We are pleased that this will enable us to honor the commitments made at the nuclear summit."
Importance of medical isotopes
Towards the end of last year, NRG initiated the '30,000perday' campaign to emphasize the importance of medical isotopes for detecting and fighting cancer. According to Brouwers, switching to low-enriched uranium is of great importance in order to guarantee Molybdenum's long-term security of supply.
Molybdenum is used 40 million times a year in diagnostic examinations in hospitals, including oncology, cardiology and neurology. Patients are injected with a light radioactive fluid. NRG is the world's largest producer of medical isotopes. Molybdenum is produced by partner company Curium, based on uranium irradiated in the reactor in Petten. Until now, the irradiated material was highly enriched uranium. Curium supplies molybdenum to hospitals worldwide.