Radionuclide transport and logistics

In May 2022, PRISMAP work package 9 (WP9-transport and logistics) published a report, which describes and outlines the existing rules and means of transport (primarily air and road) and how these rules and their implementation induces important constraints on the optimal distribution of novel radionuclides within the network. Based on input from the project partners and the analysis of the most urgent transportation needs arising from the first round of user projects, the report describes important bottlenecks for the efficient and reliable transport of novel PRISMAP radionuclides.

The medical use of open radioactive sources (radioactive material) for diagnosis and therapy has traditionally relied heavily on transport of the radionuclide and/or the relevant radioactive compound from the point of production (typically reactors or accelerators) to the point of use (typically departments of nuclear medicine in major hospitals). Over decades, a specialized transportation system has been developed by the radionuclide and radiopharmaceutical industry, but it has proven difficult for the specialized producers of the novel PRISMAP radionuclides to utilize such distribution channels effectively.

In the report, the present and future needs (including the mass separation steps) and the perceived shortcomings of existing transport channels are highlighted. The aim of this report is to establish a commonly useful transportation system for air and road transport of radioactivity between partners together with the establishment of a common, easily applicable set of rules and guidelines allowing the easy and swift transport within Europe of non-standard, developmental, preclinical and early clinical radionuclides, thus resulting in a faster and more efficient shipping process across the consortium and to the end-users of the research community.

The report highlighted that all the day-1 radionuclide production facilities already have experience with the transport of radioactive materials (type A and type B), and they can by existing methods reach the PRISMAP medical facilities more or less rapidly. The problems at present mainly lie with the short-lived isotopes with half-lives under 1 day. Here, even conventional air transport has led to significant, perhaps even prohibitive decay losses, because of the combined delays in the connecting road transports and the now necessary check-in/check-out procedures. An additional problem arises from the vulnerability of such transports to delays far beyond the planned time. Reasons can be attributed to: road congestion, airport congestion, delays in dangerous goods clearing, denied or delayed boarding of the radioactive transports to passenger planes (where airlines will often prioritize differently from our PRISMAP needs), cancelled flights, and bad weather. It was deduced that some of the delays could in some part be prevented by better procedures and better contact and understanding between the shipping laboratories and the carriers.

Based on the first PRISMAP user project requests received, we have analysed the challenges and provided solutions to the delivery plan of the required radionuclides in a timely manner. It was established that most radionuclide shipments for the first call of project requests could be delivered from the producer to the end-user faster through road transport than air transport. Subsequent PRISMAP user project requests will also be critically reviewed in a similar manner and advice will be provided accordingly.

Typical Type A package for shipping novel PRISMAP radionuclides

Going forward, it is the intention during PRISMAP to develop a set of simple-to-use packaging and shipping instructions that can help prevent common errors in preparing packages and shipping documents. Additional gains may be made through a dialogue with selected airlines that can commit to priority handling of our PRISMAP shipments. Similarly, it will be attempted to make existing international courier services interested in serving our needs. However, this will require both high-level business decisions in the courier sectors as well as time for implementation. If such schemes are to work, many drivers, handlers and cargo agents will need to be additionally trained in radioactive transports. However, none of the above proposals can solve all the time and reliability issues. Under this background, the possible use of small fixed-wing aircrafts for point-to-point services between local airports/airfields shall be further investigated. This will require a further clarification of rules and procedures for such small aircraft transports. Some of these steps will require the assistance from both the national and international regulators.

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