Isotope supply enables the USA to stop exports of HEU: Regulation & Safety

23 December 2021

Global supplies of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) manufactured without the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) are now sufficient for the United States to ban exports of HEU material for the production of medical isotopes to the United States. foreigner.

(Image: Angélique Johnson / Pixabay)

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra have jointly certified that there is now a sufficient global supply of medical isotopes made without HEUs to meet the needs of patients in the States. United, triggering the export mandated by Congress. to forbid.

“Doctors and patients around the world can be confident that the critical medical isotope Mo-99 will be there when they need it, and we can provide that assurance without making further exports of highly enriched uranium,” he said. said Granholm.

Mo-99 is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the United States every day, including the diagnosis of heart disease and cancer. Most of the world’s isotope supply is produced by the fission of uranium-235 targets in a nuclear research reactor; however, the HEU targets used for much of this production (75% in 2016) are proliferation-sensitive material which, if hijacked or stolen, could be used as a component of a nuclear weapon.

For decades, the United States lacked the capacity to produce Mo-99 domestically, so to ensure a stable supply, it exported HEU to overseas producers of medical isotopes who used the material to produce Mo-99 for the US and global markets. In 2012, Congress called on the NNSA to establish a program to support the development of domestic commercial production of Mo-99 without the use of HEU.

“Obtaining a sufficient supply of Mo-99 produced without the use of HEU is the result of significant accomplishments by DOE, HHS, and the commercial Mo-99 industry,” the DOE said. The NNSA provided financial and technical assistance to help global producers of Mo-99 switch from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU), as well as to support the development of a domestic production capacity of Mo -99 without the use of HEU, by providing more than US $ 200 million in cost-shared cooperation agreements, providing technical support to US national laboratories and establishing a lease and take-back program uranium for industry.

HHS notably facilitated this by approving the use of Mo-99 produced by global suppliers using UFE and also by approving a Mo-99 production system developed by NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, which uses Mo-98 targets. rather than uranium.

Globally, Mo-99 is produced in a limited number of research reactors. Australia’s OPAL and South Africa’s SAFARI reactors are among those now producing Mo-99 from LEU targets, and earlier this year the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) ended its use. of HEU targets in the production of radioisotopes in the high flux reactor in Petten, the Netherlands.

The NNSA and HHS said they would continue to work together to further strengthen the U.S. supply of non-HEU-based Mo-99.

Research and writing by World Nuclear News

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