NNSA Signs Cooperative Agreement to Support the Production of Molybdenum-99 in the United States Without the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium

Press Release
May 8, 2012

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) announced today the signing of a cooperative agreement with the Morgridge Institute for Research (Morgridge) to further the development of accelerator-based technology to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in the United States without the use of proliferation-sensitive highly enriched uranium (HEU). Mo-99 is a medical radioisotope used to diagnose heart disease, treat cancer and study organ structure and function.

The cooperative agreement between NNSA and Morgridge, which totals $20.6 million and is funded under an equal cost-share arrangement, will accelerate the development of Morgridge’s technology to produce Mo-99 without the use of HEU. In addition to aligning with domestic and international nonproliferation commitments, the Mo-99 produced by Morgridge would also support the goal of ensuring a reliable domestic supply of this critical medical radioisotope for U.S. patients.

“The production of this medical isotope without the use of highly enriched uranium is essential for advancing our nonproliferation commitments and minimizing the use of HEU in civilian applications worldwide,” said Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The significant technical advancement of our domestic commercial partners is critical for achieving a diverse, reliable supply of molybdenum-99 for the U.S. medical community.”

The United States currently does not have a domestic production capability for Mo-99.  The United States imports 100 percent of its supply from foreign producers, most of which use HEU in their production processes.  Over the past few years, technical difficulties and shutdowns at the major Mo-99 production facilities have caused severe supply shortages, greatly impacting the availability of Mo-99 to the medical community.  Instability in the Mo-99 marketplace has been exacerbated by artificially low prices of Mo-99, creating difficulties for new producers to enter the market, as well as for current international producers to transition from HEU targets to low enriched uranium (LEU) targets.

NNSA has entered into agreements with four domestic commercial entities to accelerate the establishment of a diverse, reliable supply of Mo-99 within the United States that is not produced with HEU.  NNSA also works with international producers to assist in the conversion of existing Mo-99 production facilities from the use of HEU targets to LEU targets.  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. 

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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. Visit www.nnsa.energy.gov for more information.