Radioactive Isotope Shortage Stalls Medical Tests

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2009 3:44 PM CDT
The nuclear reactor at the Atomic Energy Canada Limited plant in Chalk River, Ontario.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Trouble at nuclear reactors that produce two-thirds of the world’s medical isotopes have created massive testing delays in the US, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The isotopes, created in Canada and the Netherlands, are used for presurgery stress tests and to locate some cancers; doctors are limping along with older, less effective ones. The Canadian reactor is offline indefinitely because of a leak, and the iffy Dutch one is scheduled for 6 months of maintenance next year.

“That is just going to be disastrous if the Canadian reactor hasn't come back online,” a doctor says. An NRC official says the US is in an uenviable position: “We are the largest user of radioisotopes, but we have no source of our own.” Isotopes produced at the reactors are also used to treat certain cancers. “In both cases, patients will have their diagnosis or therapy delayed,” the doctor says. Another was more concise, saying simply, “We are in a pickle."