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Nuclear security agency signs another non-HEU medical isotope production agreement

Morgridge Institute

The agency in charge of securing dangerous and potentially dangerous nuclear materials in the U.S. signed on another company to produce critical medical radioisotopes without using highly-enriched uranium (HEU).

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) announced on May 8 that it had signed a cooperative agreement with the Morgridge Institute for Research (Morgridge) on the campus of the University of Wisconsin to develop accelerator-based technology to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in the U.S. without the use of HEU. Mo-99 is a medical radioisotope used to diagnose heart disease, treat cancer and study organ structure and function. NNSA calls HEU “proliferation sensitive.” The dangerously radioactive material could potentially be used to create “dirty bombs,” and NNSA and other organizations are working to limit its commercial uses.

The agency signed a similar agreement with NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC last November.

The Morgridge Institute said it would work with its partner SHINE Medical Technologies to produce Mo-99 without weapons-usable highly enriched uranium.

Morgridge officials said the funding would support a dozen institute employees focusing on technical aspects of the project while SHINE Medical Technologies will serve as the primary subcontractor and use the balance to develop an $85 million plant capable of producing Mo-99.

The U.S. has no domestic production capabilities for Mo-99 and imports all of the material from overseas. Technical slow-downs at overseas plants have also limited supplies of the material, said NNSA.

The cooperative agreement between NNSA and Morgridge, totals $20.6 million and is funded under an equal cost-share arrangement. It will accelerate development of Morgridge’s Mo-99 production technology without using HEU, said the agency.  In addition to aligning with domestic and international nonproliferation commitments, the Mo-99 produced by Morgridge would also support the goal of ensuring a reliable domestic supply of this critical medical radioisotope for U.S. patients, it said.

“The production of this medical isotope without the use of highly enriched uranium is essential for advancing our nonproliferation commitments and minimizing the use of HEU in civilian applications worldwide,” said deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The significant technical advancement of our domestic commercial partners is critical for achieving a diverse, reliable supply of molybdenum-99 for the U.S. medical community.”