Following the decision last year by the Department of Energy to grant funding to four companies for the production of Mo-99, the output of this essential medical isotope has been developing apace. The move came amid calls to deal with the regular global shortages of the molybdenum isotope, an integral component in the medical industry, where it is used extensively for nuclear imaging.
Previously, most of the world’s Mo-99 had come from four reactors: one each in Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and Russia. If there were any interruptions at any of those plants, a worldwide shortage would result. Also, the production processes employed all involved highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is regarded as a nuclear proliferation risk. With US companies boosting the domestic production of the radioisotope, using processes that do not involve HEU, the country can reduce its imports of Mo-99, decrease the global over-reliance on only four producers, and help to lower the risk of nuclear proliferation.
New Mo-99 production processes
The four companies that received government funding have developed increased infrastructure and new processes to make Mo-99. These include superconductor electron linear accelerators, the irradiation of Mo-98 and the use of low-enriched uranium (LEU) targets. One of the applicants, Shine Medical Technologies, expects to be up and running by 2022 and to be able to supply around two-thirds of the domestic demand.
The $15 million grants, which are being matched by numerous industry partners, mark a significant boost for both the nuclear and medical industries, as well as businesses supplying various support products and services to these sectors.