Phoenix Nuclear Labs (PNL) has designed and built a high yield neutron generator that will drive a subcritical assembly, developed by SHINE Medical Technologies, to produce the medical radioisotope molybdenum-99 (“moly” for short). Moly decays into technetium-99m, which is used in over 40,000 medical imaging procedures every day in the US. Over 80% of nuclear medicine procedures rely on moly to diagnose heart disease and stage cancer, among dozens of other procedures utilizing this critical isotope. Because moly has a short half-life, it cannot be stockpiled and must be continuously produced.
SHINE’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) solution target geometry has been optimized for high-efficiency isotope production. Neutrons, produced by the PNL neutron generator, drive fission in a subcritical LEU solution. The LEU solution is irradiated for approximately a week and medical isotopes are then extracted from the solution, purified using established techniques, and packaged for sale. The LEU solution is recycled, achieving extremely efficient use of uranium and producing much less waste than current moly production methods.
This process will produce medical isotopes that fit seamlessly into existing supply chains while eliminating the use of weapons-grade uranium and reliance on aging nuclear reactors. The SHINE facility will be capable of producing enough moly to meet over half of total US demand. The first generation PNL neutron generator has demonstrated over 1,000 hours of operation. Prototype II is operational and undergoing system reliability testing. Target solution chemistry has been selected, and the target geometry has been optimized and prototyped. Moly separation at >97% efficiency has been demonstrated with the SHINE process.
The first commercial sale of moly produced at the SHINE facility is scheduled for late 2017.