Wales Unveils Plans For Its New Nuclear Medicine Facility

The Welsh Government has recently unveiled its major plans for the new national nuclear medicine laboratory, which aims at making Wales a global centre of excellence and the leading location for medical radioisotope production in the UK.

The Project ARTHUR (Advanced Radioisotope Technology for Health Utility Reactor) would help address a fast-approaching supply crisis for nuclear medicine around the world.

Based in north west Wales, the Project ARTHUR facility will be a public sector ‘national laboratory’ with its own nuclear research reactor. It would produce medical radioisotopes and supply them to NHS Wales and the other National Health Services in the UK.

Project ARTHUR will be a major Welsh and UK strategic initiative and is a multi-decade endeavour, a commitment of some 60 to 70 years. Once up and running, it will then be one of a few facilities in the world focusing primarily on medical radionuclide production.

the Welsh Government stated.

The project will also help stimulate the north Wales economy by attracting highly skilled jobs and industry, creating a surrounding infrastructure, building local supply chains, and supporting local communities.

The project is a major collaborative development between the Welsh Government’s Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Economy.

The project’s vision includes creating a ‘technology campus’ in north Wales, to parallel other UK campuses with a nuclear element, such as those at Harwell (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and Culham (UK Atomic Energy Authority) in Oxfordshire, and at Daresbury (STFC nuclear physics laboratory) in Cheshire.

Welsh Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said

Our vision is the creation of project ARTHUR – a world-leading nuclear medicine facility, which will bring together a critical mass of nuclear science research, development, and innovation.

However, to succeed, funding needs to be secured from different sources, including the UK Government, to create project ARTHUR. Minister Gething concluded

We must prevent a future health and economic crisis. I have, therefore, approved funding for a technical feasibility study and for the development of an Outline Business Plan. This plan will build on technical work already undertaken and the earlier Strategic Outline Business Plan.

Read the full Welsh Government Press Release.

Medical applications of nuclear technology are used all over the world. Every year, 30 million people benefit from a diagnostic procedure or treatment by nuclear medicine for at least 60 different pathologies – and these numbers are steadily increasing. New facilities are crucial in order to meet the rising global demand.

Last year, the European Nuclear Society dedicated several events and activities focusing on nuclear medical applications and radioisotopes production and supply. This one has been also the key topic of the Panel Discussion, opening the last European Research Reactor Conference (RRFM) in Budapest, and it will be a fundamental debate also at the upcoming RRFM 2023 in Antwerp.

In Europe, four reactors are responsible for the vast majority of medical isotope production – the High Flux Reactor in The Netherlands, the BR2 reactor in Belgium, the LVR15 in the Czech Republic and the Maria reactor in Poland.

The chain is vulnerable because little spare capacity is available, and the mentioned reactors require increasing maintenance. So, a prolonged unplanned reactor outage often leads to problems in the supply of medical isotopes, which is felt by hospitals and patients. In these situations, other reactors are asked to step in, where possible.

So, the consequences of potential supply interruptions are significant. The Welsh Government reminded also the temporary loss of isotopes from the cyclotron at Cardiff University’s PET Imaging Centre, which impacted diagnostic scans for several diseases, especially cancers. The Welsh government also says that, as things stand, existing facilities coming towards the end of their lives means the UK could have to start rationing medical isotopes by 2030 which could harm patient outcomes.