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Welsh Government unveils plans for national nuclear medicine laboratory in north Wales

MAJOR new plans to make Wales a global centre of excellence and the leading location for medical radioisotope production in the UK, which would help address a fast-approaching supply crisis for nuclear medicine around the world have been unveiled today by the Welsh Government.

In the UK, across Europe, and further afield, the equipment in facilities currently producing life-saving radioactive substances, known as medical radioisotopes, which are critical to cancer diagnosis and treatment, are coming to the end of their productive life and being closed. As a result, by 2030, the UK faces a reality of having no medical radioisotopes, or the “ethical nightmare” of having to ration them.

The consequences of supply interruptions are significant. The temporary loss of isotopes from the cyclotron at Cardiff University’s PET Imaging Centre impacted diagnostic scans for several diseases, especially cancers. A more general loss of supply would have a significant detrimental impact on patient outcomes and survival.

In response, the Welsh Government has developed plans to secure the supply of medical radioisotopes for Wales and the UK through the development of project ARTHUR (Advanced Radioisotope Technology for Health Utility Reactor).

Based in north west Wales, the Project ARTHUR facility will be a public sector ‘National Laboratory’ with its own nuclear reactor. It would produce medical radioisotopes and supply them to NHS Wales and the other National Health Services in England, Scotland & Northern Ireland.

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.

As well as providing vital services for the NHS across the UK, it will also help stimulate the North Wales economy by attracting highly skilled jobs and industry, create a surrounding infrastructure, build local supply chains, and support local communities.

The Jobs created, both direct and in the associated supply-chain, will be long-term and sustainable for people of different socio-economic backgrounds and skill sets. They will include roles such as research scientists and engineers, drivers, operations, production, technical and office staff.

The facility would also help sustain and build strong, cohesive, and long-lasting communities. This will be especially important in those rural and Welsh-speaking communities across North Wales, which have been heavily reliant on jobs in the nuclear power industry.

The project is a major collaborative development between the Welsh Government’s Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Economy. The potential developments resulting from the new medical school in Bangor, aligned with Project ARTHUR and other health technologies, presents the best regional solution to a sustainable and secure radio-diagnostic and radio-medicines capability in North Wales.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said:

“Today, I am pleased to set out a clear ambition for creating another major technological cluster here in Wales, while also tackling a fast-approaching crisis for medical treatment right around the world.

“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.

“Through this development, not only can Wales become the leading place in the UK for medical radioisotope production – producing life-saving medical radioisotopes that are critical to cancer diagnosis and treatment – but we can also attract higher skilled jobs, create a surrounding infrastructure, support local communities, and build local supply chains.

“This project will be vital in helping us deliver on our commitments to creating a healthier and more prosperous Wales, by creating the opportunities people need to make their futures here in Wales.”

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.

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

The Minister added:

“The scale of investment needed to bring Project ARTHUR to life is considerable. I am calling on the UK Government to co-operate in supporting our efforts, since this development benefits and supports future cancer diagnostics and treatment right across the UK. Now is the time for decisive action and commitment. The implications of not acting will be counted in human lives and in long-term economic pressure on health services, through unsustainable health treatments.

“We are now experiencing unprecedented economic pressures – but that is not an excuse for failing to plan for this clear future need. 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.”

“I’m confident our Project ARTHUR facility can become a global centre of excellence and a source of pride for Wales and the wider UK for many decades.”

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