Back in 2010, scientists in Vancouver announced an effort to develop a new approach for manufacturing needed medical isotopes. Currently produced in nuclear reactors, the supplies of these drugs (which have a short shelf life) were critical for much of the last 2.5 years due to problems at one of the few reactors that produced them. With that Canadian reactor being shut down in 2016, and supplies of the highly enriched uranium decreasing shortly thereafter, exploring an alternative is necessary.
Earlier this month at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver, some of the scientists involved in that work reported good progress in developing an alternative production method based on a cyclotron – a kind of particle accelerator. Several major hospitals in Canada have the device, so production need not depend on the health of a single reactor in the country (and only a handful of reactors worldwide).
Of course, the U.S. Congress has tried, and failed, to address the lack of domestic production of these isotopes for a while. Perhaps this country can take advantage of the work of Canada’s nuclear physicists and make some progress to address our needs for these isotopes. I suspect many researchers at our universities would be interested in replicating the results.