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US Accelerates Reliable Production of Medical Isotopes without use of Highly Enriched Uranium

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) participated in the 2012 Society of Nuclear Medicine Annual Meeting this past week to collaborate with commercial domestic and foreign counterparts on ways to transition the medical radioisotope industry to ensure a reliable supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an important radioisotope used in approximately 50,000 medical procedures everyday in the U.S. produced without the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

Last week, the White House announced actions intended to accelerate the establishment of reliable supplies of non-HEU Mo-99 to both the U.S. and the global medical community while reducing the use of HEU in radioisotope production worldwide. Collaborative efforts with stakeholders in the Mo-99 community will further the radioisotope industry’s transition to a full-cost-recovery, market-driven model, facilitate the conversion of the current global medical isotope production from the use of HEU targets to low enriched uranium (LEU) targets, and accelerate the establishment of new non-HEU production modalities in the U.S.

“NNSA is committed to establishing a reliable supply of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 by supporting commercial partners to accelerate the development of innovative approaches that do not use highly enriched uranium to produce it,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “President Obama has laid out a clear nuclear security agenda, and we are working hard to support the advancement of this commercial industry to meet patient needs while simultaneously advancing nonproliferation objectives and the minimization of civilian use of HEU worldwide.”

As part of its mission to establish a diverse, reliable supply of Mo-99, NNSA has partnered with four domestic commercial entities to develop production capabilities for non-HEU-based Mo-99 in the United States. NNSA also works with international producers to assist in the conversion of Mo-99 production facilities from the use of HEU targets to LEU targets. Argentina, which produces Mo-99 in smaller quantities and mainly for regional consumption, converted to LEU targets in 2002. In 2010, South Africa became the first large-scale producer of Mo-99 using LEU targets, and in March 2012, the Mo-99 production facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands committed to the goal of converting to LEU targets by 2015. Australia recently commissioned a new facility that uses LEU targets to produce Mo-99 for the global market. The other large-scale Mo-99 producer using HEU targets, located in Canada, is expected to cease isotope production after 2016, with the goal of transitioning to non-uranium-based production at a smaller scale thereafter.

These efforts are part of the NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative’s mission 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.

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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.