Darlington Nuclear to produce lifesaving medical isotopes

Darlington Nuclear to produce lifesaving medical isotopes

The Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Clarington, Ont. has announced a plan to produce crucial radioactive isotopes used to detect conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

In a collaboration between Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) subsidiary Canadian Nuclear Partners, and U.S.-based BWX Technologies, Darlington will produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the parent isotope of technetium-99 (Tc-99m), which is used in approximately 80% of all nuclear medicine scans in Canada.

Over 7,500 Power Workers’ Union members work in Ontario Nuclear Generating Stations, including Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington. The Darlington facility would be the first large nuclear plant in the world to produce the isotope.

According to OPG, producing molybdenum-99 in Canada will secure a long-term, domestic and North American supply of the isotope, which is needed for over 30 million diagnostic and medical treatments each year.

Canada’s supply of medical isotopes was disrupted in 2016, as the Chalk River reactor ceased to produce molybdenum-99. Due to this, Canadian hospitals were forced to import the imaging material from Europe, Africa, and Australia.

The CANDU reactors at the Darlington station can produce molybdenum-99 while still generating electricity. Both Tc-99m and the Mo-99 it is generated from have short half-lives and need be used quickly once they are produced. As a result, it is crucial to have a constant, stable supply of the isotopes.

BWX Technologies has said it expects to have sufficient production capacity to satisfy all North American demand for Mo-99.

Darlington’s production of molybdenum-99 is just one example of Ontario’s nuclear sector working together to provide life-saving medical isotopes. Ontario’s nuclear industry is major world supplier of Cobalt-60, which is used to sterilize medical equipment, as well as tritium, which is used for photoluminescence. Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power supply 70% of the world’s Cobalt-60.

Pending regulatory approval, Darlington’s facility will begin generation of molybdenum-99 by the end of 2019. The four CANDU reactors at Darlington are also currently undergoing a $12.8 billion project refurbishment which is scheduled for completion by 2026.