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NNSA to co-produce medical radioisotope with another U.S. company

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes

The National Nuclear Security Administration has signed a cooperative agreement with a medical material supplier to develop technology that can produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an important, but potentially-dangerous material used in medical procedures.

The NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative signed the agreement with NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC, to further the development of accelerator-based technology to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in the U.S.

The cooperative agreement between NNSA and NorthStar, which totals $4.6 million and is funded under a 50 percent/50 percent cost-share arrangement, will accelerate the development of the NorthStar technology to produce Mo-99 without proliferation-sensitive highly enriched uranium (HEU), said the agency. The agreement would also support the goal of ensuring a reliable domestic supply of this critical medical isotope for U.S. patients, it said.

Supplies of the less dangerous, HEU-deficient, Mo-99 had been coming from companies in South Africa and Australia since last summer.

NNSA said it has partnered with four domestic commercial entities to accelerate the establishment of a diverse, reliable supply of Mo-99 within the United States that is not produced with HEU. NNSA also works with international producers to assist in the conversion of their Mo-99 production facilities from the use of HEU targets to LEU targets, as part of its Global Threat Reduction Initiative’s mission to minimize and eliminate the use of HEU in civilian applications worldwide, including in research reactors and medical isotope production facilities. 

The United States currently does not have a domestic production capability for Mo-99 and must import 100 percent of its supply from foreign producers, most of which use HEU in their production processes, said NNSA.  Over the past few years, technical difficulties and shutdowns at the major Mo-99 production facilities have caused severe supply shortages, which have greatly impacted the availability of Mo-99 to the medical community, it said. The Mo-99 produced by NorthStar would provide additional reliability for the U.S. supply.

As part of its nuclear nonproliferation mission, NNSA works to accelerate the establishment of a diverse, reliable supply of the critical medical isotope Mo-99, produced without the use of HEU, and this agreement is a significant step in those efforts, said the agency. 

“NNSA is committed to supporting a diverse set of technologies for the establishment of a reliable supply of molybdenum-99 produced here in the United States without the use of highly enriched uranium,” said Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “We are committed to supporting the technical advancement of commercial partners to meet the needs of the U.S. medical community while simultaneously advancing nonproliferation objectives and the minimization of civilian use of HEU worldwide.”

 
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