SA’s radioisotope producer restarts production

9th March 2018 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) announced on February 21 that its subsidiary company, NTP Radioisotopes, had resumed production. Necsa shut down operations at NTP in late November owing to noncompliance with safety protocols at the radioisotope producer, a step with which the National Nuclear Regulator concurred.

The first production batch of nuclear medical isotopes since operations resumed at NTP was also despatched on that day. It was for South African customers. Production of the first batch for international customers has started.

“Most importantly, we wish to thank our dedicated staff members who worked throughout the nights and over weekends to ensure we find sustainable solutions to the challenges faced and for the continuous improvements to our systems,” highlighted Necsa Group CEO Phumzile Tshelane. “Necsa will continue to ensure that the safety culture is entrenched amongst all employees. We encourage and remind our employees that it must be SAFETY FIRST as they carry out their responsibilities in their respective areas of work.”

The shutdown lasted longer than originally expected. This adversely affected the nuclear medical industry and fraternity, both local and global, as NTP is a major international producer of medical radioisotopes – it is one of only five sites in the world capable of producing one of the most important medical radioisotopes, Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), in commercial quantities and is now responsible for between 25% and 33% of global Mo-99 production, which it supplies to more than 60 countries around the world.

“We remain eternally grateful to our customers in the US, Europe, Japan, the Middle East and South Africa who showed their unwavering support and wished us well,” he stressed. “To all our stakeholders globally, who were affected, we thank you for your understanding and patience. Your empathy throughout this period is highly appreciated.”

Necsa board chairperson Dr Kelvin Kemm complimented both Tshelane and group executive and acting NTP MD Thabo Tselane, as well as the dedicated NTP team he led. “Collectively, they worked around the clock in tackling this extremely complex problem in the interest of ensuring our return to service and the continuous supply of this life-saving radiochemical.”