Iberdrola, Naturgy, Endesa and EDP are studying nuclear production at the Trillo plant (Guadalajara) to treat cancer. The company Centrales Nucleares Almaraz-Trillo (CNAT) - owned by the four electricity utilities - is working together with the company Framatome - in which the French state-owned EDF participates - on a project to analyze the technical and economic feasibility of producing lutetium-177.
This is an isotope frequently used in precision oncology for a growing number of different types of cancer. Lutetium-177-based treatments are designed to precisely target malignant cells without affecting healthy tissues. They are highly effective non-invasive treatments, used in therapy to treat neuroendocrine tumors and prostate cancer.
It is an incipient production that would make Spain one of the pioneering countries in the world to produce this isotope. Last year, for the first time in history, lutetium-177 was produced at unit 7 of the Bruce nuclear power plant in Ontario, Canada. Recently, the Dutch authorities granted the first permit in decades to build a new nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes in the Netherlands.
Radioisotopes can be produced naturally or artificially, mainly in research reactors and accelerators. A wide range is produced in reactors. The most widely used in nuclear medicine today is metastable technetium-99. This is combined with carrier molecules that allow the study of a wide variety of organs, such as the skeleton, heart, liver, spleen, biliary tract, digestive tract and brain.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 80 % of all diagnostic medical examinations carried out worldwide depend on the availability of the metastable radioisotope technetium-99.
Novartis manufactures in Zaragoza
One of the most prominent companies in the production of isotope-based drugs is AAA, a subsidiary of the multinational Novartis. With facilities in Zaragoza, they use lutetium-177 to make drugs such as Pluvicto, their latest nuclear weapon against cancer. The drug has already been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Novartis is now in talks with the Ministry of Health to obtain price and financing, the last step for patients to be able to receive this novel therapy.
The Aragonese capital will be one of the four plants in the world, together with those of Ivrea in Italy and Milburn, New Jersey, and Indianapolis in the USA, in which Novartis will centralize the production of this new oncological treatment. In fact, Novartis has invested 1.5 million euros in the expansion of the plant, located in the town of Almunia de Doña Godina. This reform will multiply the production capacity by five, double the export capacity and create another 20 new jobs, which will be added to the 22 existing ones.
The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan sets 2035 as the final date for the decommissioning of nuclear power plants in Spain. This year 2023 - marked by the review of the plan, the general elections, as well as the deadline for deciding on the decommissioning of the Almaraz plant - will determine the useful life of the national atomic plants.
The energy crisis, driven by the war in Ukraine, has brought European industry to the fore. Countries such as Germany and Belgium have already taken the decision to delay the closure of their nuclear power plants in order to guarantee energy supply in the midst of the upheavals in the energy market.