Distributed production of radioactive medical isotope Tc 99 may solve longstanding problem.

We are currently using a centralized production model for this isotope with just a six hour half-life. This model involves just a handful of dedicated, government-funded research reactors, producing molybdenum-99 from highly enriched uranium (which is another issue for another time). Moly, as we’ve come to affectionately call it, decays via beta emission to technetium, and when packaged into alumina columns, is sterilized, and encased in a hundred pounds of lead. It is then shipped by the thousands to hospitals around the world. The result: the world has come to accept Tc-99m, which is used in 85% of the 20 to 40 million patient scans every year as an isotope available from a small, 100 pound cylinder that was replaced every week or so, without question, without worry. Moly and her daughter were always there…but in 2007 and again in 2009, suddenly they weren’t. The world had come to realize that something must be done.

Distributed solutions can be more robust than centralized solutions, especially if coordination problems plague the central model. Here is a great example of how distributed production of Tc 99 may be superior to centralized manufacturing.

The great weakness of distributed models centers around communication, and when the task being distributed requires little to no communication, distributed solutions usually scale very well (e.g., image processing).

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