Monday, March 15, 2010

Where Does AREVA's Lead-212 Come From?

Last week, AREVA, the French reactor manufacturer, announced that they plan to build a facility to produce medical-grade lead-212. That caught my eye, because lead-212 is a product of the decay of radioactive materials like thorium and radium. Lead-212 can be attached to cell-specific peptides to target and kill cancer cells selectively.

Today, in a blogger conference call with Jacques Besnainou, the CEO of AREVA in North America, the new facility came up. I asked about the source of the lead-212, and Besnainou said that it is from “other processing operations” in France. I pressed on what those operations were, and Besnainou said that AREVA would explain, but he didn’t give any details.

Dan Yurman posted on AREVA’s R&D interest in lead-212 about a year ago. He gave a chart of the the decay chain leading to lead-212 (Pb-212), which I reproduce here. But where does the U-232 come from? It is produced by using thorium fuel in a reactor or the natural radioactive decay of thorium.

The chart also gives the half-lives of the various radionuclides – the numbers followed by y, d, h, m, and s (years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds). The half-life of lead-212 is 10.6 hours, so the process will involve a fast separation of the lead-212 followed by its incorporation into the cancer-treating reagent. This sort of process has been done for many short-lived isotopes for cancer detection and treatment.

The source of the lead-212 is most likely thorium, perhaps irradiated in a reactor, perhaps natural. It’s not surprising that AREVA would have some from “other processing operations”; thorium is often present in uranium ore.

I look forward to AREVA’s telling us exactly what the source is.

1 comment:

Katherine Berezowskyj, AREVA said...

As you clearly pointed out, there are a limited number of possible sources for lead-212. These potential sources include Uranyl Nitrate coming from our used fuel recycling activities, as well as natural Thorium from our mining activities.

Of course our commitment to full transparency is a priority; however in as part of our research and development efforts, we reserve the right to protect information, particularly that information related Intellectual Property rights. In the near future, it will be more appropriate for AREVA to release the origin of the material for the AREVA Med Lead-212. We assure you that this will not be a big surprise.