Moly-99, also known as Molybdenum-99, is an extremely important radioactive isotope used in medical imaging to detect cancer and other potentially fatal conditions. With a half-life of only 66 hours, it decays rapidly and cannot be stockpiled for any other nefarious use. Its daughter isotope, Technetium-99m, with an even shorter half-life of only 6 hours, is currently used in over 40,000 medical procedures in the US daily. It forms a critical component of nuclear medicine.
Where is it produced?
In 2019, the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) selected four companies to develop a USA supply of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) without using highly enriched uranium (HEU). This was designed to ensure a reliable source not dependent on the previous four reactors located in Russia, Belgium, Netherlands, and South Africa.
The production of Moly-99 was important to Huron because of the construction of four new research reactors or accelerators for this USA based production. Our Neolube family of products was used in this construction for pipe thread lubrication, anti-galling applications, and pipe sealing on threaded connections. It shows that Neolube pipe lubrication and sealant products have a strong place in research reactors, accelerators, and educational reactors in addition to the traditional power reactor nuclear segments.
Until recently, the production of Moly-99 was in scarce supply with only a few nuclear plants outside the USA focused on its production even though over half of the consumption of Mo-99 is in the USA. The other major issue was that the four reactors that did produce Moly-99 also involved the production of highly enriched uranium and were a nuclear proliferation and terrorism risk. The production in the USA was spearheaded in 2013 by President Obama with early research and program funding
Moly-99 in Nuclear Medicine
First used in the 1960s, Tc-99m produced from Moly-99 was injected into the patient’s body emitting gamma rays which were detected by gamma cameras which were then able to detect blocked blood vessels and cancerous tumors. It was considered a much safer alternative to other diagnostic tracers since patients were exposed to much lower levels of radiation.
Due to the short lifespan of Tc-99m (only 6 hours), much of it ended up being wasted. The time from Moly-99 production to the use of Tc-99m for imaging can be only 4 to 5 days, a very short supply chain. An alternative was patients having to be exposed to more toxic imaging agents which were more expensive and the patient’s exposure to higher levels of radiation. Moly-99 is vital to the current supply chain and having reliable, low-risk USA production is vital.
Moly-99 is currently the focus of even more production and distribution on a large scale around the world as medical practitioners seek to implement this highly sought-after imaging radioisotope.