Clinton, IL- Exelon Generation Company and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) today announced a partnership for the potential to produce molybdenum-99, which is used to produce technetium-99m, the most widely used medical radioisotope in the world. Exelon's Clinton Power Station in Clinton, Ill. will serve as the host facility for the project.
These isotopes are critical for imaging that's used for medical and research purposes, including evaluating the medical condition of the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, spleen and bone, among others, and also for blood flow studies.
"We're proud to be a involved with the production of a domestic source of this critical and widely used radioisotope that will help tens of thousands of people daily across the U.S., said Exelon Nuclear Senior Vice President Midwest Operations Bryan Hanson.
Presently, the U.S. imports molybdenum-99 from six main suppliers in Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, France and Australia. Some of those supply sources are inconsistent.
"Only a little over a year ago we had a severe Molybdenum-99 shortage, which led to the disruption or delay of nuclear medicine procedures for an estimated 50,000 patients each day," said George Segall, MD, president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. "Creating a domestic supply of Molybdenum-99 is a very positive step in the right direction, and we hope that efforts will continue to build a sustainable source of this radioisotope."
"We are excited about the possibility of working with Exelon and the U.S. government to help fill a void that has a direct impact on our population's health," said Kevin Walsh, senior vice president, nuclear fuel cycle for GEH. "GEH's new isotope production technology could potentially meet approximately 50 percent of the United States' projected supply needs of this critical isotope, ensuring consistent patient access to vital medical diagnostic procedures."
The project will require two license amendment requests to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), first for testing and then for design and implementation of the commercial system, which must be approved before the station participates in the project.
While Clinton Power Station serves as the host for this important project, this will be transparent to the surrounding community and to plant operations. Residents could see additional trucking from the plant of highly secure shipments that is regulated by the NRC and the Department of Homeland Security.
Molybdenum-99 production will not affect the plant's ability to safely produce electricity. "The safe and reliable production of electricity is always our first priority," Hanson said.
After NRC approval and successful testing, this project would involve the weekly insertion of molybdenum-98 targets that, upon absorbing a neutron, become molybdenum-99. The transformed targets are then collected and shipped to offsite facilities for further processing. This is all done through an existing plant system modified to support the new process. Pending all approvals, production of molybdenum-99 would begin in 2014.
Molybdenum-99 would be the second medical radioisotope produced at Exelon's Clinton Station. Exelon and GEH announced a partnership in January 2010 for the production of Cobalt-60, a radioisotope that is used in the treatment of certain cancers and in medical device and food sterilization. The first supply of Cobalt-60 for commercial use will be available in 2014.