There are already so many reasons to love our Canadian brothers: poutine, Rush, Alex Trebek. But let’s add another to the lengthy list: The nation to our north makes PET scans possible, by producing the bulk of the world’s supply of medical isotopes. Chief among these isotopes is Technetium-99, which is key to safe pediatric bone scans.
But now it looks as if Canada may be getting out of the business, due to fears that its nuclear reactors are too aged to operate safely. Technetium-99 is produced at only one reactor, the Chalk River facility in Ontario, and it was recently shuttered due to maintenance problems. Hospitals are already feeling the pinch, and the situation seems certain to get worse as reactors in the Netherlands and South Africa slow down in their old age.
The long-term problem is that it’s far too expensive to build new reactors dedicated to medical isotopes—the multi-billion dollar investment doesn’t justify the current $10-per-pound price for molybdenum, the precursor for Technetium-99. So what to do? Maybe fire up those cyclotrons.