Decaying Supply: Tracing the Life of Technetium-99m

This project maps the UK’s medical radioisotope supply chain, and seeks to establish an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the supply chain in a post-Brexit world.

Radioisotopes are a vital component of modern medicine. In the UK radioisotopes are used in approximately 700,000 procedures annually. Yet, the UK has no capacity to produce radioisotopes and relies on imports from European reactors governed by the European nuclear body Euratom. With the UK’s impeding exit from the EU and Euratom, concerns over the future of radioisotope supply and public health emerged in the summer of 2017. Overall, the global radioisotope supply rests on a narrow basis. Disruptions in supply occurred in 2008-2010 and are envisioned in the foreseeable future.

To understand the present and future challenges to radioisotope supply in the UK, this project maps the journey of the most commonly used radioisotope, Technetium-99m, from sites of production to sites of use, and ask questions such as; Who and what are involved in the production of Technetium-99m? What are the strengths and/or weaknesses of existing radioisotope supply arrangements? What kinds of alternatives have been envisioned for current supply arrangements? What capacity does the UK have to adjust to potential changes in the supply of Technetium-99m?

The project utilises actor-network approaches and mapping techniques to answer these questions. In doing so, the project is well positioned to address current public concerns over the supply of radioisotopes, as well as to broaden the existing sociological discussions on medical nuclear technologies.