Up until now, the United States, while demanding more Mo-99 than any other country in the world, has barely produced any of the radioisotope since the 1980s. With the decision by government to grant funding to four companies to produce the material, the US will begin producing sufficient Mo-99 for its own needs, as well as for export. This is a major boost for the nuclear industry and the national employment levels, which have suffered in the wake of COVID-19. The medical industry will also be able to count on a steady supply of Mo-99, which is a vital material for use in nuclear imaging.
In addition, the manufacturing process is much safer. The production of Mo-99 has long been problematic because of the use of targets containing weapons-grade, or highly-enriched uranium (HEU), as well as the resultant dangerous waste products. With the new methods being developed, both of these concerns can be addressed.
Making Mo-99 with LEU and Mo-98
Each of the four companies is developing a different method and building different infrastructure to facilitate and support it.
Shine Medical Technologies is building a facility in Janesville, Wisconsin, where it will use an approach centered on low-enriched uranium (LEU) and a low-energy, accelerator-based neutron source. NorthStar, also based in Wisconsin, has been working on two approaches: one that employs the irradiation of Mo-98 and another that makes use of a linear accelerator. NWMI in Oregon is also working on an approach that uses LEU. Niowave, based in Lansing, Michigan, is developing superconducting electron linear accelerators for the production of medical isotopes.