The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) said it exported germanium-68, a radioactive medical isotope, to Sanders Medical, an American medical device company.
According to the publicly-invested institute, the contract with Sanders Medical marks the first time Korea has exported a radioactive isotope to the United States.
The export volume is 5mCi (millicurie), worth about 10 million won ($7,837).
Sanders Medical will use the volume to test the production of calibration source products. After verification, the institute plans to supply an additional 100mCi during this year.
Germanium-68 is a radioactive isotopic raw material for cancer diagnosis and is a calibration source for maintaining the accuracy of X-ray imaging equipment, such as PET (Positron Emission Tomography). The isotope has a relatively long half-life of around 270 days, which, in turn, allows the isotope to be transported for long periods of time.
Technologically advanced countries, such as the United States, Russia and Germany, occupied more than 90% of the international germanium-68 market. However, a recent increase in demand for Germanium-68 has made the search for a new supplier important.
KAERI succeeded in producing germanium-68 for the first time in Korea using an RFT-30 cyclotron, a particle accelerator that accelerates protons to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use, in 2019. Since then, The institute has gradually improved its research facilities and radioisotope production systems to increase international competitiveness.
To stabilize the production of Germanium-68, the cyclotron must be able to irradiate protons at the level of 35 MeV (megaelectron volt) for a long period over several days. Therefore, the cyclotron owned by KAERI has the same performance as overseas cyclotrons, as the institute has been able to develop new high-frequency, beam-output and irradiation systems.
KAERI has also developed technology to improve the performance of the Germanium-68 production system by using a single pure metal which minimizes the possibility of mixing with other nuclides during radioisotope production.
“We will continue to complete research facilities to locally produce radioactive isotopes,” KAERI Chairman Park Won-seok said. “We hope that this contract will serve as a starting point for spreading the institute’s technological prowess to the international market.”