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UPDATE: Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Treating the Sick

Steve Lynch
Project Manager
Research and Test Reactor Licensing Branch

The United States does not produce a medical isotope used domestically in millions of diagnostic procedures each year. We’re talking about technicium-99m, or Tc‑99m — which has been called the world’s most important medical isotope.

Tc-99m is created from another radioisotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which, in some cases, is produced  using highly enriched uranium. A supply 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 U.S. efforts to develop non-HEU methods for medical isotope production and begin phasing out the export of HEU. The National Nuclear Security Administration has been promoting domestic Mo‑99 production using different technologies through formal cooperative agreements with 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, subcritical solution tanks. To support the transition to new technologies, the NRC is prepared to receive and review applications for construction permits, operating licenses, and materials licenses for new facilities, as well as license amendments for existing non-power reactors.

In fact, we are now reviewing two construction permit applications and a license amendment request. We licensed a small-scale technology demonstration project earlier this year.

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 use and production of medical isotopes and other nuclear materials, visit the NRC webpage.

Kara Mattioli also contributed to this post.

This is an update to the original blog post, which originally ran in October 2013

7 responses to “UPDATE: Reducing Proliferation Risks AND Treating the Sick

  1. Public Pit Bull July 29, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Tombstone Regulation
    This is yet another example of the NRC waiting for others to act on a serious nuclear issue. As one commenter has already pointed out using Highly Enriched Uranium (HEW) in the first place to produce a medical isotope was “foolish and counterproductive”.
    Now the NRC has waited until Congress finally acted to address this issue and now the NRC waits for others to step up to the plate to actually address this national security issue. Did the NRC ever take a position or lobby Congress to address this issue before Congress finally acted? Or as I suspect, did the NRC let others carry the water for them? Our passive NRC does not take a stand for public health and safety as their mission statement reads. The NRC has the technical expertise to support doing the right thing, they simply don’t use that expertise to lobby for safety improvements.
    The sad situation is that our passive NRC has not taken a stand on other issues as well.
    • High Level Waste (HLW)-this nation’s 93 spent fuel pools contain three times the amount of spent fuel they were originally designed to contain. They contain three times the amount of spent fuel that resided in those damaged spent fuel pools in Japan. Yet our NRC has taken no position on this growing safety problem in the US.
    • Nuclear Plant Safety Upgrades-about three fourths of the US nuclear fleet have been granted lifetime extensions by the NRC. These plants were required to analyze their plants for needed safety upgrades. Many safety improvements were identified in this process. The NRC did not require any of these plants to actually implement those safety upgrades.
    • Post-Fukushima Upgrades-the nuclear industry successfully lobbied the NRC to only address mitigation strategies in the event of a Fukushima disaster here in the US. The NRC did not require US nuclear plant owners to implement prevention strategies. Thank God the old NRC required both prevention and mitigation strategies as a result of the Three Mile Island disaster in ’79.

    In discussing this with a friend of mine who is very familiar with NRC practices, he said the NRC is only a “tombstone regulator”. Many people have died from nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima. My friend said that until many more people die from a nuclear disaster in the US, the NRC will not act. How tragic and sad!

  2. adrossin July 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    This policy on HEU was one of the most foolish and counterproductive policies that U. S. ever initiated.

  3. John Coupal July 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

    minor correction: the isotope is spelled technetium-99m

    • Moderator July 28, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Your comment prompted us to search for a preferred spelling for the word. It appears both on our website and elsewhere online under both spellings. While technetium appears to be the more common spelling, technicium is used by a number of authoritative sources, including this 2014 EPA report on radiation assessments: http://epa-sdcc.ornl.gov/RadRiskCommunityGuide.pdf

      In this case, we kept the spelling chosen by the original author of the blog.


      • John Coupal July 30, 2015 at 1:06 pm

        I’m confused. That EPA URL you supply includes only the spelling, technetium. Where does that alternate spelling appear in it? And, what other authoritative sources employ the alternate spelling? All this may seem petty, but I’m sure it can confuse those of us familiar with the radionuclide and those who are not.

      • Moderator July 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm

        Please take a look at page 2 of the EPA document at that URL.


      • John Coupal August 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm

        OK, trying not to beat a dead horse. That spelling on page 2 of the URL appears to be a typo that wasn’t caught. EPA’s later detailed pages on Tc-99 spell it with a second “t”, not a “c”.

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