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Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Healing the Sick

Steve Lynch
Project Manager
Research and Test Reactor Licensing Branch

It’s a little known fact: One of the most useful radioisotopes in medicine comes mainly from highly enriched uranium (HEU), the very stuff that can be turned into a nuclear weapon. We’re talking about technicium-99m, or Tc-99m—which has been called the world’s most important medical isotope. It’s used to diagnose a variety of illnesses in millions of procedures each year in the United States alone.

Tc-99m is created from another radioisotope, molybdenum-99, which traditionally has been produced abroad from HEU sources. A stethoscopesupply shortage that delayed patient treatments several years ago, coupled with the desire to reduce proliferation risks, prompted the world community to find better ways of securing the future supply of this isotope.

In 2012, Congress passed the American Medical Isotope Production Act to support private efforts to develop medical radioisotope production facilities using other methods and begin phasing out the export of HEU for medical isotope production. The National Nuclear Security Administration, through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative, has been promoting domestic Mo-99 production using different technologies through formal cooperative agreements with four commercial partners.

These partners and several other companies have said they are interested in producing Mo-99 in the U.S. They have proposed using several different technologies, ranging from non-power reactors to accelerator-driven, sub critical solution tanks. To support the transition to new technologies, the NRC is preparing to receive and review applications for construction permits and operating licenses for new facilities. In fact, we are now reviewing the first medical radioisotope production facility construction permit application, received earlier this year.

But not all Mo-99 production facilities will need an NRC license. While reactors fall strictly under NRC regulation, accelerator technologies that do not use enriched uranium or plutonium would be regulated by the states.

Companies, facilities and technicians involved in producing and administering Tc-99m to patients may also need to be licensed by either the NRC or an Agreement State. (There are 37 Agreement States, which have formal agreements with the NRC allowing them to regulate certain nuclear materials, including medical isotopes).

For more information on the role of the NRC and other agencies in regulating the medical use of nuclear materials, visit the NRC webpage.

Kara Mattioli also contributed to this post.

16 responses to “Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Healing the Sick

  1. john bowers October 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    3-11-11 that is

  2. hiddencamper October 29, 2013 at 1:39 am

    Mo-99 can be produced without highly enriched uranium. Clinton power station is supposedly planning to do this (per their wikipedia page). They already produce Cobalt-60 in their reactor for medical purposes

  3. Moderator October 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    The comments seem to have moved off from the topic of the post. Please feel free to post comments unrelated to this post on our Open Forum section.


  4. Anders October 24, 2013 at 11:40 am

    “the very stuff that can be turned into a nuclear weapon” Oh really? Just how enriched is the Uranium used for Mo-99 production? Rather less than that used in bombs I would suspect… While new technologies are cool and all, this is basically wasting money on the paranoid assumption that there is a “proliferation risk” of any magnitude in exporting slightly more enriched uranium to that known empire of evildoers, Canada. The outcome will be a higher price for Tc99m diagnostics, and more patients that need them will not get it while the number of nuclear weapons made by Canada will suffer a sharp reduction from 0 to 0. The same madness that prohibits the US from making any real strides in recycling spent nuclear fuel, an area where it used to be world-leading.

    • Anonymous October 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Not sure what percentage, but I believe it is considered HEU, so a good deal more enriched than what they use in power reactors.

  5. Baratta, Edmond October 24, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Good morning:

    I believe at one time (maybe still do) Mo was irradiated to produce Mo-99 ( which decays to Tc-99m). This process produced a large amount of radioactive waste. Also, it was (I believe) separated chemically and didn’t make for good generators. Currently some manufacturers make generators of up to fifteen(15) curies which can produce large quantities of Tc-99m, unlike the Mo neutron production. You may be aware of this.

    Ed Baratta
    Radiation Safety Officer
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    Tel. 781-756-9742
    Fax: 781-756-9757

  6. richard123456columbia October 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Not probably but is in air and food.

  7. john bowers October 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

    That’s nice. Tc-99m.

    What about the Fukushima technecium which is probably floating around in the air and lodged in all of our lungs?

    How many million people will die from Fukushima, which is an ongoing supercatastrophe.

    In any truthful, complete odds vs. stakes analysis, nuclear power is not worth it.

    • Anonymous October 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      The answer to your question, “How many million people will die from Fukushima” is precisely 0. Not a single person will die as a result of exposure to or ingestion of radioactive byproducts released from the Fukushima plants

      • john bowers October 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm

        It has already been shown that tens of thousands of American babies have died in the womb as a result of Fukushima fallout. Bird populations in areas of California which received Chernobyl fallout had a population collapse after that prompt criticality explosion and meltdown. And you indicate even expectant mothers would have nothing to worry about. Your statement is insane. Reactor 3 and/or its SFP exploded. Those were fuel rods falling back out of that dirty brown mushroom cloud. Fragments and pellets were blown as far as 18 miles away. The censorship and coverrups of Fukushima speak the truth of the matter. The NP industry threatens all life on this planet.

      • Moderator October 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm

        To date, there is no evidence that radioactive material from Fukushima exists in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the safety of FDA-regulated food, including seafood. For information about FDA efforts to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply, please see: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm247403.htm
        Attempts to link the very low levels of Fukushima-related contamination to U.S. deaths have been debunked in the media:
        http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/06/21/are-babies-dying-in-the-pacific-northwest-due-to-fukushima-a-look-at-the-numbers/ and http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/12/20/researchers-trumpet-another-flawed-fukushima-death-study/
        Hydrogen gas from damaged fuel collected at the very upper levels of Units 1, 3 and 4 and later detonated – neither the reactors nor the spent fuel pools exploded. The contamination detected in the neighboring countryside was from windblown microscopic particles, not “fragments and pellets.”

        Scott Burnell

      • john bowers October 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm

        RE: Moderator comment, “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the safety of FDA-regulated food, including seafood. For information about FDA efforts to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply…”

        First off, the federal government apparently ordered censorship and a media blackout on Fukushima shortly after 3-11-13. It’s word, and it, can’t be trusted. Just look at President Obama’s statements ‘you can keep your own health insurance plan’ and over half a million have had theirs cancelled. Censorship of just about any news about Fukushima would have to have been ordered from the top.

        You say now, the FDA says food is safe, assuming the FDA’s word is honest. The FDA bans the import of apricot kernels, because people were using them to treat cancer. It then banned bitter almonds when people switched to these, even though there was less content. It finally required regular almonds all be pasteurized as there was still enough B-17 content to treat cancer. Therefore the FDA is a bunch of murderers preventing people from treating their cancer. The FDA also presided over the deaths of scores of thousands of people through, I believe it was, Viox, when it was warned there would be problems. It doesn’t matter what the exact drug was, it was one of many likewise.

        If the ^&%$ fish were glowing the FDA would still claim they were safe to eat.

    • john bowers October 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm

      Photovoltaic panels are 75 cents a watt now, and that’s with severe suppression against the technology.

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