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HEU Minimization and the Reliable Supply of Medical Isotopes Nuclear Security Summit: Fact Sheet

March 26, 2012

Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) is used to produce technetium-99m (Tc-99m), a medical isotope that is used in about 100,000 diagnostic medical procedures globally every day. Today, Mo-99 is produced at aging facilities in Europe, Canada and South Africa primarily using highly-enriched uranium (HEU) – a weapons-usable material.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) is working to accelerate the development of a commercial domestic capability to produce Mo-99 without the use of HEU as part of its nuclear nonproliferation mission. At the same time, to further the United States Government’s policy of minimizing the use of HEU in civilian applications, NNSA is working with international, large-scale Mo-99 producers to assist the conversion of existing isotope production facilities from the use of HEU targets to low-enriched uranium (LEU) targets.

In conjunction with these ongoing efforts, the United States is working with European isotope producers to ensure a reliable supply of Mo-99, which includes the export of HEU until the facilities can convert to LEU targets.

At the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, the United States will join France, Belgium and the Netherlands in issuing a Four-party Joint Statement highlighting the ongoing cooperation to ensure a reliable supply of Mo-99 while simultaneously removing HEU for secure disposition.

Key actions highlighted in the Joint Statement include:

  • Commitments from the governments of the four countries to support conversion of European production industries to non-HEU-based processes by 2015;
  • Support for U.S. exports of HEU to the European isotope producers to enable continued Mo-99 production until the facilities can convert to LEU targets; and
  • The elimination of excess HEU scrap material that cannot be used for isotope production from Europe with the support of the United States.