NNSA-backed NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes finishes new molybdenum-99 production facility

Published on November 30, 2022 by Chris Galford

© NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes finished work this week on a new molybdenum-99 production facility in Wisconsin, allowing the creation of the medical radioisotope without the need for highly enriched uranium (HEU).

Backed financially and technically by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the facility aims to increase production of an item the DOE has dubbed vital without contributing to nuclear proliferation.

Molybdenum-99 is used to fight heart disease and cancer and is used in more than 40,000 medical diagnostic procedures daily throughout the U.S. However, the DOE noted that despite its widespread use, there has been no domestic capability for its production, and most imported material tended to be produced using proliferation sensitive HEU. For the latter, NNSA is also working with international producers to convert production processes to low enriched uranium instead of HEU, as it is not a weapons-usable material. Fears persist that HEU and similar materials could be used for terrorism or nuclear proliferation in general.

Over the years, NNSA has awarded $109 million to NorthStar’s efforts. In 2018, the company became the first U.S. entity in nearly 30 years to produce non-HEU molybdenum-99 domestically through the irradiation and processing of molybdenum-98 targets. While the company is currently able to produce enough to address approximately 20 percent of U.S. demand, its new facility will increase its production capabilities enough to meet nearly 40 percent of U.S. demand for molybdenum-99, based on a method of irritating molybdenum-100 targets with electron accelerators.

Although construction and equipment installation has concluded, start-up and regulatory submissions are not yet finished, and the facility is expected to go online before the end of 2023.