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How Research Reactors Help Make Medical Imaging Possible

More than 80% of the medical imaging used each year to diagnose diseases like cancer is made possible by the pharmaceutical drugs produced, for the most part, in research reactors. These radiopharmaceuticals contain the radioisotope technetium-99m (99mTc ), which comes from the radioisotope molybdenum-99 (99Mo) that is primarily produced in research reactors.


While 99Mo or even 99mTc can be produced using other approaches, research reactors are particularly cost-effective and well-suited to this, especially for commercial, large-scale production,” said Joao Osso, Head of the IAEA’s Radioisotope Products and Radiation Technology Section. “This is because they can produce large amounts of 99Mo with the right characteristics that make it easy to extract 99mTc using a generator in a hospital, thereby keeping supplies of radiopharmaceuticals flowing consistently and reliably for more patients.”


With the IAEA’s support, SAFARI-1 has undergone continuous development and improvements since it began operation in 1965, including its conversion from high enriched uranium fuel to low enriched uranium fuel in 2009 (learn more about this kind of conversion) and its transition from high enriched to low enriched uranium targets, which was completed in 2017. These activities have helped to ensure better utilization of the reactor and its successful transition to more commercial use.


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Source: IAEA