Workers prepare a low-enriched uranium machine for the production of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). Courtesy/NNSA
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Thursday it has awarded more than $11 million in additional funding to its cooperative agreement partners, SHINE Medical Technologies and NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, to accelerate the establishment of new, domestic sources of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) produced without the use of proliferation-sensitive highly enriched uranium (HEU).
“This additional funding demonstrates NNSA’s ongoing commitment to its cooperative agreement partners to further advance the capability to produce Mo-99 in the United States without the use of HEU,” said Anne Harrington, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “These cost-shared agreements show the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors to bring these innovative technologies to full commercialization, making new sources of Mo-99 available for patients worldwide in a way that’s consistent with global nuclear nonproliferation agreements.”
NNSA has partnered with SHINE Medical Technologies and NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes since 2010. This funding supplements more than $34 million already awarded under three separate cooperative agreements with the NNSA:
- NNSA awarded an additional $1 million to SHINE Medical Technologies to further develop its accelerator-based technology to produce Mo-99 via fission of low-enriched uranium (LEU), bringing the total NNSA support awarded to date to $15 million.
- NNSA awarded an additional $1.7 million to NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes to further develop its accelerator-based Mo-99 production technology, bringing the total NNSA support to this project to $5.7 million.
- NNSA awarded an additional $8.9 million to NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes to further develop its technology to produce Mo-99 via neutron capture, bringing the total NNSA support to this project to the maximum of $25 million.
Thursday’s announcement marks significant progress toward domestic production of Mo-99. This support furthers the ongoing effort to ensure reliable supplies of Mo-99 are available to meet patient needs, and are produced without weapons-grade material. Retaining its longstanding policy, NNSA’s support to its cooperative agreement projects is awarded under a 50 percent-50 percent cost share agreement, up to a total NNSA contribution of $25 million each.
Mo-99 is the parent isotope of technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging, used in approximately 80 percent of nuclear diagnostic imaging procedures, equating to about 50,000 medical procedures in the United States every day. The United States does not currently produce Mo-99 and must import 100 percent of its supply from foreign producers, most of which use HEU in the production processes.
Previous technical difficulties and shutdowns at the major Mo-99 production facilities have caused widespread shortages to the medical community, and the world’s largest producer—located in Canada—is expected to cease regular Mo-99 production after 2016. These events emphasize the need to establish a commercial Mo-99 production capacity in the United States.