Nuclear reactor crucial to world’s medical isotope supply to stay closed for weeks
The nuclear reactor in Petten, which has been shut down for four weeks due to a leak, will not be restarted until March 17 at the earliest. However, it is still uncertain if that timeline is realistic, says a spokeswoman for reactor operator NRG. The cooling system leak was found in the ceiling of a basement, and prevented the reactor from coming back online after maintenance.
"We are currently in the preparation stage before the repair. We have made a proposal that must be approved by our supervisor, the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection (ANVS). Once that process has been completed, we can start adjusting the cooling system, then we can restart the reactor," said the spokesperson.
Petten is the world's largest supplier of medical radioisotopes which are used to diagnose cancer, and to treat people with the disease. The isotopes are used to irradiate metastatic cancer. They can also be used to treat patients with cardiovascular disease, and those with infections.
The Petten reactor accounts for a massive 40 percent of the global market share of radioisotopes. While another reactor in Belgium was closed due to planned maintenance, the Dutch reactor even supplied half of the world’s supply. Belgium and the Netherlands are jointly responsible for 65 percent of the medical isotopes supplied in the world.
For the time being, hospital patients can be accommodated with radioisotopes from other reactors around the world, according to the NRG spokesperson. "But if we stay out of operation longer than the intended March 17, then we will have a different situation and then we will have to reevaluate. If we see that we are not going to meet the target date, we can see how the other reactors can cope with this in a different way.”
The Dutch Association for Nuclear Medicine (NVNG) indicated at the beginning of February that some hospitals in the Netherlands cannot perform as many patient scans as they would like to, due to the problems at Petten. The organization will release a new estimate about the situation on Tuesday.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.