NorthStar and Westinghouse to Explore Potential New Process for Producing Medical Radioisotopes

Generation of molybdenum-99 in commercial nuclear reactor cores would help alleviate chronic product shortages and address nuclear proliferation

MADISON, Wis. – NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes LLC and the Westinghouse Electric Company LLC have completed a memorandum of understanding under which the companies will explore the potential for producing medical radioisotopes in commercial nuclear reactors. Of particular interest is the generation of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) via the irradiation of molybdenum-98 (Mo-98) in the commercial nuclear reactor core.

This collaboration is meant to address the need worldwide for additional capacity for the production of medical radioisotopes, as well as the nuclear proliferation concern associated with current Mo-99 production methods that use highly enriched uranium (HEU) as source material. Mo-99 is the parent isotope of technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging. Currently, nearly all Mo-99 is generated using weapons-useable HEU at aging facilities, leading to chronic product shortages and creating safety and national security concerns.

The generation of Mo-99 from commercial nuclear reactors would offer the advantage of highly reliable, high-volume production without the proliferation concern. It also would require little capital investment by commercial nuclear plant operators.

Westinghouse has a patent pending for the production of medical radioisotopes using the movable incore detector system that is part of the existing Westinghouse plant design. NorthStar has been developing two processes for using stable isotopes of molybdenum – Mo-98 and Mo-100 – rather than HEU as the starting point for Mo-99 production. The companies believe that combining their expertise will have a profound impact on the global supply of this vital diagnostic isotope.

“Nuclear plants operate at very high capacity factors, and there are plants around the world that have the capability to produce Mo-99,” said Cindy Pezze, chief technology officer for Westinghouse. “Not only does commercial nuclear power contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases, it can now also provide a significant positive impact to society by making important diagnostic isotopes more readily available around the world.”

James Harvey, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief science officer at NorthStar, said, “While we already have several other processes for Mo-99 production under development – and will continue to pursue them – this presents a tremendous opportunity to further address the chronic shortage of medical isotopes. We are excited about the potential of working with Westinghouse because commercial nuclear reactors could provide a significant increase in production volume using highly reliable technologies and facilities that are available around the world.  This will be a game-changer for the generation of medical radioisotopes as it provides NorthStar with a significant production redundancy and outage reserve capacity, both of which are critical to the long-term health of the industry.”

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes LLC
Based in Madison, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes LLC (northstarnm.com) was founded in 2006 to address the needs of the nuclear medicine market in the United States. A wholly owned subsidiary of NorthStar Medical Technologies LLC, the company is committed to resolving industry-wide supply challenges that have caused shortages of vital medical isotopes, negatively impacting patient care and stalling clinical research. Its patented technologies include innovative non-uranium based molybdenum-99 production methods, a novel separation chemistry system and tools for the nuclear medicine market.

Westinghouse Electric Company LLC
Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba Corporation (TKY:6502), is the world's pioneering nuclear energy company and is a leading supplier of nuclear plant products and technologies to utilities throughout the world. Westinghouse supplied the world's first pressurized water reactor in 1957 in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Today, Westinghouse technology is the basis for approximately one-half of the world's operating nuclear plants.