OPG Darlington Nuclear Generating Station gets on board for isotope production


Life-saving Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) isotopes can now be produced at Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, thanks to the installation and initial commissioning of an innovative isotope system by Laurentis Energy Partners and BWXT Medical Ltd. (NYSE: BWXT).

The production of Mo-99 at Darlington will be a world-first for a commercial power reactor.

With the necessary equipment now installed, the team will continue with planned commissioning and preparation activities for commercial production of Mo-99, pending completion of validation runs and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada.Mo-99 is used to produce Technetium-99 metastable (Tc-99m), one of the most prevalently used diagnostic imaging agents in nuclear medicine, which helps detect illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

Tc-99m is delivered to radiopharmacies and hospitals across North America to make radiopharmaceuticals for patients. This production break-through will help resolve historical shortages of this vital product.

  • Because of the unique design of Darlington’s CANDU reactors, medical isotopes can be produced without interrupting the generation of clean energy.
  • North America has not had a stable domestic supply of Mo-99 since Canada’s National Research Universal reactor ceased production in October 2016. Hospitals have had to rely on imports from Europe, Africa, and Australia.
  • Once operational, the arrangement between Laurentis and BWXT Medical will be capable of producing enough Mo-99 to supply a significant portion of the current and future North American demand.
  • Historically, Mo-99 has been produced within research reactors using uranium as a starting material. Alternatively, BWXT Medical’s Tc-99m generator will be produced using natural molybdenum targets irradiated at Darlington Nuclear, greatly reducing waste by-products.
  • In the future, the newly-installed Target Delivery System (TDS) at Darlington may be used to produce other medical isotopes.
  • With the addition of Mo-99, multiple isotopes are now produced at Darlington: Helium-3, Mo-99, and Tritium, with plans underway to produce Cobalt-60 – currently also extracted from reactors at Pickering.

“Tc-99m is the workhorse isotope for nuclear medicine,” says Dr. David Laidley, Nuclear Medicine Physician at London Health Sciences Centre. “Used in over 80 per cent of all nuclear medicine procedures, the availability of this critical isotope will save countless lives.”

“This is an exciting milestone for all companies involved, but most importantly, for patients in need,” adds Ken Hartwick, OPG’s President and CEO. “Ontario’s nuclear generating stations have demonstrated for decades their value extends beyond producing reliable, affordable, clean energy. I’m proud of the role our employees and stations play in providing life-saving medical isotopes to the world.”

Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Energy points out that Ontario is leading the way on the production of medical isotopes through leveraging world-class nuclear generation stations and supply chain to create a steady global supply of radiopharmaceuticals that helps the healthcare system detect illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

“The installation of the TDS is the result of many years and countless hours of support from everyone involved at Laurentis, BWXT, OPG, and our other project partners,” said Jason Van Wart, President of Laurentis. “The entire team was tireless in their efforts to install this ground-breaking isotope irradiation system to secure a reliable, large-scale supply of a crucial diagnostic isotope that hospitals and patients so desperately need. As we continue to innovate and aspire to be a global leader in isotope production, I look forward to what our team and the industry will accomplish next.”