Har­ness­ing SA’S nuclear ex­per­tise

NTP has proven the in­cred­i­ble po­ten­tial of peace­ful ap­pli­ca­tions of nuclear tech­nol­ogy

Financial Mail - - CROSSWORD 1984 -

A com­pany with a proudly SA her­itage, NTP’S ori­gins lie in the es­tab­lish­ment of SA’S nuclear ar­ma­ments pro­gramme un­der the apartheid govern­ment.

The SA­FARI-1 re­search re­ac­tor be­came op­er­a­tional in 1965, when the coun­try’s first self-sus­tain­ing chain reaction took place in March of that year. By 1973, SA­FARI-1 was al­ready pro­duc­ing small quan­ti­ties of med­i­cal ra­dioiso­topes, al­most as a by-prod­uct of its nor­mal re­search ac­tiv­ity.

Dur­ing that same pe­riod, how­ever, the coun­try’s larger nuclear pro­gramme started to take a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion as the apartheid govern­ment em­barked on a lo­cal ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gramme that would even­tu­ally be used to pre­pare six nuclear war­heads.

It was not un­til the early 1990s that the peace­ful ap­pli­ca­tions of nuclear tech­nol­ogy be­came a pri­or­ity for what was then the Atomic En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion, later Necsa.

In 1991 SA be­came the first coun­try to vol­un­tar­ily dis­man­tle its nuclear ar­ma­ments pro­gramme, when it signed the Nuclear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty. At the same time, nuclear medicine was be­com­ing a grow­ing area in the med­i­cal field.

The de­ci­sion was made to con­vert part of the fa­cil­ity at Pelind­aba to pro­duce ra­dioiso­topes and pur­sue the ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try more proac­tively.

Tech­nol­ogy that had once pro­duced en­riched ura­nium for mil­i­tary uses was now used to pro­duce life-sav­ing ra­dioiso­topes that could be used in nuclear medicine.

In 2003 NTP Ra­dioiso­topes was reg­is­tered as a wholly owned sub­sidiary of Necsa and be­gan pi­o­neer­ing nuclear medicine prod­ucts for use in the di­ag­no­sis of con­di­tions in­clud­ing can­cer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and neu­roen­docrine ill­nesses. In 2009 the SA­FARI-1 re­ac­tor core was con­verted from weapons-grade highly en­riched ura­nium (HEU) to non-weapon­s­grade low-en­riched ura­nium (LEU) fuel and a year later the first largescale com­mer­cial Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion-ap­proved batch of all-leu Mo-99 was pro­duced and shipped to the US for pa­tient use. NTP re­mains the world leader in the im­ple­men­ta­tion and pro­duc­tion of all-leu prod­ucts.

NTP pi­o­neered the pro­duc­tion and therapeutic use of beta-emit­ter lutetium-177 n.c.a (Lu-177) in SA in 2012, un­der li­cence from ITG in Ger­many. Lu-177 n.c.a. is con­sid­ered one of the most promis­ing new ther­a­pies for prostate can­cers.

NTP has es­tab­lished a Lu-177 plant, which will soon pro­vide a lo­cal source of the ra­dioiso­tope.

“SA should be proud of what nuclear sci­en­tists in this coun­try have achieved in the past half a cen­tury,” says NTP group MD Tina Eboka. “We’ve man­aged to turn the pur­pose of the re­ac­tor into a force for good and en­sured that the nuclear med­i­cal prod­ucts we pro­duce per­form a vi­tal role in health­care glob­ally and en­hance peo­ple’s lives. Our vi­sion is to make med­i­cal ra­dioiso­topes more ac­ces­si­ble to more peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly in Africa.” In ad­di­tion, NTP has be­come a repos­i­tory for nuclear and nuclear phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­per­tise, and is a sig­nif­i­cant earner of for­eign ex­change.

The SA­FARI-1 re­search re­ac­tor in the early 1970s, shortly af­ter it be­gan op­er­at­ing

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