NorthStar expands non-HEU Mo-99 capacity

12 May 2016

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes has announced plans to quadruple its capacity for dispensing the medical radioisotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) produced at the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR).

Installation of the new filling line is to begin in November, with full production expected to begin in the first half of 2017. The system will be designed and installed by Von Gahlen International, a subsidiary of Netherlands-based radiation shielding specialists Von Gahlen. The expansion represents an investment of over $3 million in NorthStar's development of processes for producing Mo-99 wihtout using high-enriched uranium (HEU).

Mo-99 is used in medicine to produce technetium-99m, used in around 80% of nuclear imaging procedures. With a half-life of only 66 hours, Mo-99 cannot be stockpiled, and security of supply is a key concern. Most of the world's supply is produced in research reactors in Australia, Canada, Europe, Russia and South Africa.

There has been no commercial production of the isotope in the USA since 1989, but in 2014 the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced over $8 million of funding to push forward two projects including NorthStar's aimed at securing a domestic supply of the isotope without using HEU. NorthStar received approval to begin routine production of Mo-99 at the MURR facility in Columbia, Missouri, in August 2015.

The new filling line will also be able to prepare source vessels containing Mo-99 generated from natural or enriched molybdenum-98 targets. Enriched targets produce approximately three times more Mo-99 than natural targets.

NorthStar CEO George Messina said that the increased capacity offered by the new filling line would enable the company to meet anticipated demand for its isotope separation system. "Our recent progress toward commercialization of our production process, and the encouraging feedback we've received from the marketplace, justify this investment," he said.

The other Mo-99 project to receive funding from the NNSA, Shine Medical Technologies, plans to produce medically important isotopes, including molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) using an accelerator-driven subcritical assembly - not a nuclear reactor - to irradiate a low-enriched uranium target solution. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this year authorized its staff to issue a construction licence for the company's first-of-a-kind production facility, to be built in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News