The Production of Medical Isotopes without Nuclear Reactors or Uranium Enrichment

Seth A. Hoedl, W. Derek Updegraff, "The Production of Medical Isotopes without Nuclear Reactors or Uranium Enrichment," Science & Global Security 23, no. 2 (2015): 121-153

This article examines the current capability of accelerator technology, which is rapidly improving, to produce medical isotopes. A detailed analysis of 12 medical isotopes that are in active diagnostic and therapeutic use and typically made in nuclear reactors shows that accelerator-based technologies, such as linear accelerators, cyclotrons, and spallation neutron sources, could meet medical demand for these isotopes, without the use of enriched uranium and with low proliferation risk. The feasibility of accelerator-based production of an additional 70 isotopes that have a potential medical use is also discussed.A simple estimate suggests that accelerators can produce isotopes at a cost comparable to reactors. This article includes four case studies that illustrate the recent choices that emerging market countries have made when expanding domestic medical isotope production. Technical, commercial, and regulatory steps for commercialization are also described. The article concludes with policy suggestions that would increase the adoption of accelerator-based medical isotope production.

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