The US Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has issued two cooperative agreements worth a total of USD37 million to NorthStar Medical Technologies, LLC to support the commercial production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) without using high-enriched uranium (HEU). It has also launched RadSecure 100, a major radiological security initiative to enhance US radiological security at facilities in 100 metropolitan areas throughout the USA.

(Image: NNSA)

Wisconsin-based NorthStar will use the funds to complete its neutron capture technology programme and continue development and expansion of its accelerator production programme, both of which support non-uranium based production of Mo-99. DOE/NNSA will provide USD16.3 million for the neutron capture project and USD20.7 million for the accelerator project, with NorthStar required to provide an equal amount of matching funds. The awards will also be used in continuing development of enhancements for NorthStar's approved and commercially available RadioGenix System technetium generator.

Mo-99 is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the USA each day, including the diagnosis of heart disease and cancer, but US medical facilities have previously been procured from overseas suppliers that traditionally produced Mo-99 using HEU, a material which is seen as a proliferation concern. In 2018, Wisconsin-based NorthStar became the first US company in nearly 30 years to produce Mo-99 domestically, using technology that involves irradiation of naturally-occurring Mo-98, instead of irradiating HEU, in a nuclear reactor

"Establishing a domestic supply for a whole host of products, including this critical medical isotope, is good for our national security and good for job creation here at home," Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said.

Combining NNSA’s expertise in nuclear nonproliferation with innovative US manufacturing means US citizens will benefit from the health applications of radioisotopes "while keeping nuclear risks low and setting a global example", NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby said.

NorthStar President and CEO Stephen Merrick said the company "deeply appreciates" the support it has received from DOE/NNSA. "NorthStar is the only commercialised US producer of Mo-99, having provided reliable Mo-99/Tc-99m supply to the nation for nearly three years," he said. "We are proud to be the first and only company to achieve commercialised Mo-99 production through collaboration with DOE/NNSA to date. We are working aggressively to ensure sustainable domestic Mo-99 supply through dual production and processing hubs for additional capacity and scheduling flexibility."

These awards are the first to be completed since the NNSA in July 2020 announced it would make funds available to industry to start commercial-scale production by the end of 2023. Negotiations with two other companies for cooperative agreements are ongoing, NNSA said.

Local partnerships key to security

The NNSA has launched a new programme to work in partnership with local governments, businesses and others to ensure radioactive materials used at facilities throughout the USA do not become a security risk.

"Radioactive materials are used to treat cancer, ensure building safety, and more," said Kristin Hirsch, Director of NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security. "But if they were lost or stolen, these materials could pose a significant risk. RadSecure 100 puts the spotlight on the highest priority materials, like caesium-137, in cities nationwide."

The initiative aims where possible to replace radiological devices with alternative technologies not requiring a radioactive source and then removing any sources no longer needed, and to the security of radiological facilities and mobile sources by providing security enhancements. A particular focus is replacing caesium-137 irradiators with non-radioisotopic technologies such as X-ray devices.

The initiative will also aim to enhance radiological security in facilities that use cobalt-60, americium-241, and iridium-192, located in 100 metropolitan areas throughout the USA.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 01 September 2021
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