The isotope technetium-99m is manufactured in only a few reactors in the world. Three of these manufacturers, including the most prominent source in Europe – the reactor in Petten – had temporarily halted deliveries due to maintenance work. If such a situation were to arise again, TU Delft would be able to help. Since 2011, a minor adaptation has allowed the Reactor Institute Delft to produce radio-isotopes as well.
The 2008 disaster shifted TU Delft’s research on the production of radio-isotopes into high gear, as recounted by the RID researcher Prof. Bert Wolterbeek.
‘The key substance, technetium-99m, is produced by splitting highly enriched uranium’, he explains. ‘One of the products that is produced is radioactive molybdenum-99, the source material for technetium-99m. The molybdenum that manufacturers supply to hospitals is bound into rods. A hospital can ‘harvest’ the technetium-99m isotope from one rod for a week, as the molybdenum-99 slowly decays into technetium-99m on site. The more molybdenum we can bind into such a rod, the better. We are collaborating with an American company to develop optimisation techniques for this purpose.’
The RID is also investigating the production of alternative radio-isotopes.
In collaboration with Utrecht University and Erasmus University Rotterdam, the RID is developing methods of producing holmium-166 and lutetium-177, which are used in the treatment of various types of tumours in internal organs. It is also developing techniques for producing molybdenum-99 from non-radioactive molybdenum-98, without requiring the fission of enriched uranium.