Canada's MDS Nordion, one of the world's largest provider of isotopes used to diagnose cancer, said Thursday a state-owned Russian producer will become one of its suppliers, providing a cushion against further shutdowns of an aging Canadian reactor.
A unit of Rosatom State Corp. will supply MDS with molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the most prominent isotope used in nuclear medicine. It is the parent isotope for technetium-99m, used in roughly 80 per cent of nuclear medicine procedures globally. Applications include diagnosing heart disease or detecting hard-to-find cancers.
MDS said it will exclusively process, distribute and sell Mo-99 supplied by Rosatom's Isotope unit outside Russia until 2020. In addition, the two companies may form joint ventures and other programs.
MDS said the deal will help offset the impact of any more shutdowns at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s (AECL) Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, the main supplier of isotopes to MDS.
Chalk River is one of the few reactors in the world that produce commercial quantities of Mo-99. Isotope aims to join its ranks.
While MDS sees limited supplies initially, it said the goal is for the Rosatom unit to produce up to 20 per cent of global Mo-99 demand to help back up MDS's long-term requirements.
Chalk River, which reopened recently, closed in May, 2009, when the AECL discovered a heavy water leak at the facility, also known as the National Research Universal reactor. MDS Inc., the parent of MDS Nordion, took a severe hit following the closing.
The 53-year-old NRU is the world's oldest reactor. When it is in full operation, it has provided about 35 to 40 per cent of the world's medical isotopes and roughly 50 per cent of those used in North America.
Given the reactor's age, MDS has been exploring other supply options. Last week, it said that market demand has become uncertain following the shutdown of the aging reactor, forcing MDS's customers to diversify supply sources.
Canada plans to spend $35-million over next two years to help develop new technology to produce medical isotopes.