Mo-99, a critical medical radioisotope, is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the US each day, including the diagnosis of heart disease and cancer.
The awards, announced on 27 August, are the first of four agreements to come from the NNSA’s most recent funding opportunity announcement, issued in July 2020, and are part of the agency’s broader nonproliferation programme. The NNSA said it is in negotiations with two other unnamed companies for the award of the other cooperative agreements.
The funding is being provided through the NNSA’s Mo-99 programme, which is managed by the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and supports the establishment of domestic supplies of Mo-99 without the use of proliferation-sensitive HEU.
The new NNSA cooperative agreements will provide $16.3m to expand NorthStar’s reactor-based Mo-99 production technology, and $20.7m to support a second NorthStar project to produce Mo-99 using electron beam accelerators. NorthStar will be required to provide an equal amount of matching funds for both agreements.
In addition to NorthStar, the NNSA has provided cost-shared funding to Shine Medical Technologies of Wisconsin, Niowave of Michigan, and Northwest Medical Isotopes of Oregon. The four companies are each pursuing the production of Mo-99 using a different non-HEU technology.
In 2018, NorthStar became the first US company in nearly 30 years to produce Mo-99 domestically, using neutron capture technology that irradiates naturally occurring Mo-98 in a nuclear reactor. NorthStar works in partnership with the University of Missouri Research Reactor to irradiate the Mo-98 targets.
According to Northstar, the US relies heavily on overseas producers for medical radioisotopes such as Mo-99. For more than 25 years, the US supply of Mo-99 has been solely reliant on aging nuclear reactors outside the country. The resultant frequent and sometimes prolonged supply interruptions disrupt healthcare for patients in need of medically important diagnostic tests that use these isotopes.