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NNSA Awards Funding to Accelerate Non-HEU-Based Production of Molybdenum-99 in the United States

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced today the award of a cooperative agreement that accelerates the dual objectives of eliminating the use of proliferation-sensitive highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the production of medical isotopes and establishing reliable domestic supplies of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) to meet U.S. patient needs. Mo-99 is used frequently in common medical diagnostic procedures. The cooperative agreement with NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC provides support toward NorthStar’s Mo-99 production capability using neutron-capture technology, which it is pursuing in partnership with the University of Missouri Research Reactor.

“This cooperative agreement demonstrates that the government and commercial industry can work together to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation while providing stability to an important part of the medical radioisotope market,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The development of commercial technologies to produce Mo-99 without the use of HEU will ensure that patients have access to the care they need while supporting global nuclear nonproliferation objectives.”

The U.S. currently does not have a domestic production capability for Mo-99 and must import its supply from foreign producers, most of which use HEU and rely on aging facilities that are increasingly prone to unexpected shutdowns. Because the technology developed by NorthStar does not use HEU and provides additional reliability for the domestic Mo-99 supply, today’s announcement marks a significant step toward achieving both NNSA objectives.

The award of this cooperative agreement, for which NNSA will contribute $10.9 million, is matched under a cost-share arrangement with NorthStar. To date, NNSA has provided approximately $4 million toward the development of NorthStar’s accelerator-based Mo-99 production technology. The award announced today focuses resources on NorthStar’s short-term solution while maintaining developmental efforts on the longer-term accelerator-based production efforts.

As part of its nuclear nonproliferation mission, the department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) works to minimize and, to the extent possible, eliminate the use of HEU in civilian applications worldwide, including in research reactors and medical isotope production facilities. In support of this mission, GTRI has established partnerships with four domestic commercial entities to accelerate a diverse, reliable supply of Mo-99 that is produced without HEU while also working with international producers to assist in the conversion of existing Mo-99 production facilities from the use of HEU targets to low enriched uranium targets.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.