• May 30, 2014 3:00 AM

NTP Radioisotopes: A Glowing Example of a South African Triumph!

PRETORIA, South Africa, May 30, 2014 /CNW/ - NTP Radioisotopes SOC Ltd, a subsidiary of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), produces a quarter of the world's medical radioisotopes used to allow for about 40 million medical diagnostic images every year, making it the third largest producer and supplier globally. This proud South African corporate citizen is situated at the sophisticated Necsa nuclear facility site, west of Pretoria and routinely serves customers in 60 countries on six continents with its range of nuclear radiation-based products and services.

NTP contributes greatly to South Africa's GDP 

Being customer focused, and socially and environmentally responsible, NTP has put South Africa on the world map as a promising emerging market, contributing nearly R1-billion in local and international radiopharmaceutical revenue, according to annual reports.

Phumzile Tshelane, CEO of Necsa, said that NTP enjoys a reputation built on consistent, reliable service and product quality excellence with a strong competitive advantage over other isotope producers due to direct control over, or access to raw materials, facilities and processes.

South Africa is the first country in the world to successfully implement commercial scale LEU-based Mo-99 and I-131 production 

A global milestone was achieved in June 2009 when the SAFARI-1 reactor first fuelled up its core using low enriched (non-weapons grade) uranium (LEU) instead of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) used previously. Tshelane explained, "This accomplishment, together with the conversion of target plates (from which Mo-99 and I-131 are extracted) to LEU, marked the beginning of the first-ever commercial scale fully LEU-based Mo-99 production."  These successes were followed by delivery of the first shipment of LEU-based Mo-99 to a customer in the US late in 2010. Shipments of LEU Mo-99 still continue.

"SAFARI-1 is the only research reactor in the world with the highest number of operational days per annum (over 300 days), thereby ensuring optimal radioisotope production capacity as well as maintaining a stringent maintenance schedule," said Tshelane. "The reactor although 48 years old, is extremely well maintained and constantly upgraded, which means it will operate at least until 2030."

NTP undertook this conversion process from Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) targets plates to those fabricated from low-enriched Uranium (LEU) as encouraged by the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) of the USA's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA initiative seeks to eliminate the possibility of bomb-grade HEU falling into the hands of terrorists and NTP has been internationally lauded for its pioneering achievement in eliminating its dependence on HEU for radioisotope production.

Don Robertson, MD of NTP, said, "Molybdenum-99 made in reactors fuelled by LEU is an important contribution to production safety, and in providing healthcare industries with safe and secure, cost effective, and uninterrupted access to critical, often lifesaving medical imaging procedures."  

World-class Expertise 

NTP's world-class expertise in medical radioisotope production using the SAFARI-1 reactor and sophisticated processing facilities are Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) - decay product Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) - used to diagnose cancer, heart and numerous other diseases and Iodine-131 (I-131) used in the treatment of thyroid ailments. Robertson further explained, "Production of Mo-99 by NTP, on a commercial scale, was developed during the early 1990s. After this production capacity and penetrating the global market, NTP emerged as one of today's world leaders in the field."

For the past 18 years, NTP maintained a successful consortium radioisotope supply arrangement with IRE of Belgium. Each organisation has been able to provide back-up Mo-99 supply for the other during times when either plant has been out of operation for maintenance purposes.  The long-term alliance with IRE to a large degree contributed towards NTP's status of one of the world's leading suppliers of Mo-99 owing to the sustained and reliable supply achieved over the years.

Speaking about NTP's achievements, Tshelane added that NTP established a partnership with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in terms of which a large-scale Mo-99 production facility will be constructed at ANSTO using NTP's technology and expertise, supported by ANSTO's extensive capabilities and experience. He said, "The South African-Australian Mo-99 production partnership was established in September 2012 and comes at a critical time for nuclear medicine provision owing to the imminent closure of certain large Mo-99 production facilities in Canada and Europe."

"We are proud that a purely South African technological advancement has contributed so significantly to nuclear non-proliferation efforts, while simultaneously enhancing the lives of millions of patients benefitting from the use of nuclear medicine. This illustrates South Africa's and NTP's commitment to the utilisation of proven nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," concluded Robertson.

For more information visit: http://www.ntp.co.za

SOURCE NTP Radioisotopes SOC Ltd

For further information: Media contact person for more information: Ms Mapula Letsoalo, NTP Executive Manager, Tel: +27 12 305 5413, Mobile: +27 83 643 3199, Email: Mapula@ntp.co.za