NorthStar completes construction of Mo-99 production facility

December 6, 2022, 7:01AMNuclear News
The electron accelerator that will be used for Mo-99 production at NorthStar’s newly completed facility in Wisconsin. (Photo: NNSA)

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes has completed construction and all equipment installation at its new facility in Beloit, Wis., to produce the medical radioisotope molybdenum-99 without the use of high-enriched uranium, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced last week.

NorthStar is one of three companies the NNSA currently has cost-shared cooperative agreements with to support the non-HEU production of Mo-99, which is used in over 40,000 medical diagnostic procedures in the United States each day. The other companies include Shine Technologies, located in nearby Janesville, Wis., and Lansing, Mich.–based Niowave.

Since 2012, the NNSA has competitively awarded $245 million in cost-shared agreements to U.S. companies, including $109 million to NorthStar.

Background: In 2018, NorthStar became the first U.S. company in nearly 30 years to produce non-HEU Mo-99 domestically. Using neutron capture, the company produces Mo-99 by irradiating and processing Mo-98 targets at the University of Missouri Research Reactor.

NorthStar is currently capable of producing enough Mo-99 to meet approximately 20 percent of the U.S. demand, according to the NNSA. Once NorthStar’s newly completed facility is licensed, the company will have a combined production capability to meet nearly 40 percent of U.S. demand for Mo-99, a significant increase from current levels. NorthStar expects to complete start-up and regulatory submissions before the end of 2023.

A new process: At the new production facility, NorthStar will produce Mo-99 through the photo transmutation (neutron knockout) of molybdenum-100 targets using electron accelerators. This will be the first facility in the world to produce commercial-scale Mo-99 using this technology, the NNSA said. The facility also includes new, high-capacity equipment for processing and packaging Mo-99 for distribution to radiopharmacies and hospitals.

The supply chain: For decades, the United States had no capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and relied entirely on imported material, most of which was previously produced using proliferation-sensitive HEU.

To reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, the NNSA supports U.S. companies working to establish domestic production of Mo-99 without the use of HEU. In parallel, the agency also works with international producers to help them convert their production processes to use low-enriched uranium, a non-weapons-usable material, instead of HEU.


Related Articles