Medical isotopes

Nuclear technology is very important to our health. The use of radioactivity and radiation in the treatment of various cancers increases survival rates. Medical isotopes are also used in pain management and for diagnosis. Medical isotopes emit radiation that is used to make diagnoses, such as by administering them to patients undergoing PET or SPECT scans. In addition, therapeutic isotopes are used to treat cancer patients, such as in radiation therapy or brachytherapy. In this therapy, the isotope is inserted to attack malignant cells internally.

The High Flux Reactor in Petten

Isotopes are made in the Nuclear Research and consultancy Group’s (NRG) High Flux Reactor (HFR), among other places. The HFR has a power of 45 million watts. This power is used to collide neutrons and raw materials. This happens in the core of the reactor, which is located in a water-filled basin about 9 meters deep, with thick concrete walls. Placing raw materials in the core at the bottom of the water basin exposes them to the neutrons and creates isotopes. The water layer serves to shield the radiation released by the process. The water is colored blue because the charged particles move through the water at very high speed. The HFR will be replaced by the PALLAS reactor around 2025.

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Isotopes from a cyclotron (accelerator)

Making isotopes in a cylotron, also called an accelerator, is a process in which not neutrons, but protons in combination with a magnetic field and an electric field must collide with certain raw materials at an accelerated rate. The shelf life of most isotopes from an accelerator is very short, so accelerators are often located close to where the products are used, such as a hospital.


Making isotopes in a cyclotron is a process that requires accelerated collisions of not neutrons, but protons in combination with a magnetic field and an electric field with certain raw materials. The shelf life of most isotopes is very short, so cyclotrons are often located close to where the products are used, such as a hospital.

SHINE designs, manufactures and operates innovative fusion systems for short-term applications, such as the production of medical isotopes. Currently, most medical isotopes are produced in six research reactors. With its innovative fusion technology, SHINE aims to strengthen the efficiency of the supply chain and thereby ensure the security of supply of key medical isotopes. SHINE fusion technology is designed to produce both therapeutic and diagnostic medical isotopes without research reactors or highly enriched uranium.

In the United States, SHINE is already producing lutetium-177 on a commercial scale. This is a medical isotope used to treat prostate cancer, as well as neuroendocrine tumors. SHINE uses its innovative accelerator technology for this purpose. SHINE Europe will apply the knowledge gained in the United States in Veendam and start construction of a similar production facility for lutetium-177 as soon as possible. In addition, SHINE Europe has announced plans to build a plant in Veendam for the production of molybdenum-99, used for cancer diagnosis.

Urenco Stable Isotopes

Nuclear applications are widely used in the medical world to correctly diagnose and treat patients. By changing the composition of Zinc, for example, through enrichment, you can make it suitable for use in gamma cameras. With these cameras, diseases can be detected in organs such as the lungs, for example. At Urenco Stable Isotopes they enrich and deplete various isotopes that can then be irradiated in the High Flux Reactor in Petten to make them radioactive.

Brochure Medical isotopes

This publication highlights the importance of continuous and reliable supply of medical isotopes to the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world. It also describes the substantial efforts taken by all supply chain partners towards breakthroughs that improve future nuclear health care services and treatment of patients. The development of new therapeutic applications of isotopes is illustrated with several examples.


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