Our diagnostic isotope production process

Diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals provide the power behind diagnostic medical imaging procedures that are critical for the detection of life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Early disease detection through molecular imaging provides patients with enhanced treatment choice and planning flexibility, including allowing for lower-cost interventions to treat cancer and other diseases. Mo-99 is the most utilized diagnostic isotope, powering tens of millions of patient scans worldwide annually, with almost fifty percent of those nuclear medicine procedures performed in North America.

We have developed a revolutionary way to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) for diagnostic imaging without the use of a nuclear reactor or high-enriched uranium, allowing for a safer, greener, more efficient method of supplying this critical medical isotope to the world. Our medical isotope production process provides a new source of this critical medical isotope and others outside of the aging reactor sites that provide most of the world’s supply of diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals for nuclear medicine. Our medical isotope production facilities will provide a reliable source of Mo-99 in North America compatible with the current supply chain and alleviate the burdens on reactor facilities to meet the world’s needs for the diagnostic and therapeutic isotopes used in potentially lifesaving medical treatment.

Advantages of our Mo-99 production process

Removal of nuclear fission reactors: Our medical isotope production process relies on accelerator-driven technology for Mo-99 production instead of a nuclear fission reactor (as has been commonplace in the radiopharmaceutical industry), using our fusion neutron generator as the driver. Our process removes the need for a nuclear reactor. Utilizing our deuterium-tritium fusion-based neutron source reduces the nuclear waste associated with current Mo-99 production techniques.

Removal of highly enriched uranium: Highly enriched uranium, or HEU, has the risk of possibly being diverted from use in energy production to use in nuclear weapons production. Instead of using solid HEU, our target solution is a liquid-based low enriched uranium, or LEU, that is produced by converting HEU to LEU. By using LEU, we eliminate the chance of HEU used in the production process being diverted for nuclear weapons production in our production process.

Reusable target liquid: Our liquid LEU target solution can be recycled into our production system after each use. This recyclable target solution further reduces nuclear waste production and increases the ease of separation.

Commercially viable Mo-99 produced: Our production process results in Mo-99 that is of high quality and high purity, resulting in Mo-99 that has high specific activity and is ready for delivery to our medical customers for use in modern nuclear medicine.

Our Mo-99 production system has been designed from the ground up to be compatible with the existing medical isotope supply chain. We believe that our first isotope production facility in Janesville, Wisconsin, will be capable of producing over one-third of the global demand for Mo-99 and will primarily serve the U.S. market, with the goal of providing North American generator manufacturers, radiopharmacies, and hospitals an abundant supply of domestically sourced medical isotopes. The second facility in Veendam, the Netherlands, is expected to have a similar capacity, which could bring our total Mo-99 production to over two-thirds of the worldwide need for diagnostic nuclear medicine applications.

The SHINE facilities are being constructed with reliability and customer focus at the forefront. Each production location will contain multiple SHINE DT neutron generators and hot cell systems to create redundancy and prevent downtime concerns. The flexible production options are designed to serve customer needs in both quantity and timing of the delivery of Mo-99.

In addition to Mo-99, SHINE’s technology also enables the production of other isotopes such as iodine-131, xenon-133, yttrium-90, and strontium-89.

How is Mo-99 typically produced?

Molybdenum-99 is a byproduct of uranium fission. When fissile uranium undergoes nuclear fission, the uranium breaks apart into a wide variety of radioactive isotopes, including Mo-99.

Although the United States alone consumes nearly half of the world’s supply of Mo-99, the vast majority of Mo-99 is produced in a handful of reactor facilities in Europe, South Africa, and Australia.  Mo-99 is processed and shipped from these facilities around the world, where it is loaded onto generators to produce technetium-99m. Since Mo-99 has a such short half-life, it must be sent to end-users right away for use in nuclear medicine procedures.

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All medical isotopes have a half-life (most of them very short), and Mo-99 is no exception. The half-life of Mo-99 is 66 hours, which means that no matter how much of it you produce at once, after three days more than half of it will have decayed. Because of Mo-99’s half-life, it must be produced and distributed continuously around the world. Mo-99’s short half-life results in approximately one-third of it being lost during its cross-continental transportation coming to North America.

The average age of the several nuclear reactors supplying the vast majority of the global demand of Mo-99 is between 50 and 60 years old. These reactors have become increasingly unreliable with unplanned downtime creating periodic global shortages of diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals necessary for nuclear medicine procedures. The supply constraint is expected to materially increase when existing reactors are expected to go offline in the next five to 10 years, with only the Australian reactor left online by 2030.