In addition to producing isotopes using nuclear reactors, there are also non-nuclear production alternatives. There is a technique to produce medical isotopes using so-called cyclotrons, or accelerators. Experimentation with this technique is ongoing. However, these accelerators are not yet suitable for large-scale production of all types of medical isotopes. Cyclotrons can produce isotopes such as iodine-123 (for diagnosis of thyroid function), thalliuym-201 and rubidium-82 (with which doctors can detect heart disease). A number of medical isotopes can be produced on a large scale in a reactor, but not in an accelerator. This is the case for all therapeutic medical isotopes, and currently also for the well-known isotope molybdenum-99. Cyclotrons will never be able to replace reactors, but they can complement each other.
One of the alternative techniques attracted the attention of high-tech company ASML a few years ago. The ‘Lighthouse Initiative’ hopes to have the isotope molybdenum-99 available for diagnosis in the future. This project is still in an early development phase and the technology has yet to be proven.
Different production techniques needed side by side
PALLAS embraces these types of initiative. After all, it is essential that there are enough medical isotopes available. The expectation is that the demand for medical isotopes will become so large in the future that we will need all different techniques for the production of isotopes alongside each other.