Domestic Production of Medical Isotope Mo-99 Moves a Step Closer at Los Alamos

Domestic Production of Medical Isotope Mo-99 Moves a Step Closer at Los Alamos

Researchers produce molybdenum-99 from irradiation of low-enriched uranium

PR Newswire

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., May 13, 2013

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., May 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --Today, Los Alamos
National Laboratory announced that for the first time, irradiated uranium fuel
has been recycled and reused for molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) production, with
virtually no losses in Mo-99 yields or uranium recovery. This demonstrates the
viability of the separation process, as well as the potential for
environmentally- and cost-friendly fuel recycling. Medical isotope production
technology has advanced significantly now that scientists have made key
advances in separating Mo-99 from an irradiated, low-enriched uranium (LEU)

(Photo: )

Low-Enriched Uranium as a Source of Mo-99

Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is the most commonly used medical isotope today,
accounting for about 50,000 medical imaging procedures daily in the United
States. Tc-99m is derived from the parent isotope Mo-99, predominantly
produced from the fission of uranium-235 in highly enriched uranium targets
(HEU) in aging foreign reactors. The North American supply of Tc-99m was
severely disrupted when the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Canada experienced
an outage several years ago.

The National Nuclear Security Administration's Global Threat Reduction
Initiative (GTRI) implements the long-standing U.S. policy to minimize and
eliminate the use of HEU in civilian applications. In support of this
objective, GTRI is working with U.S. commercial entities and the U.S. national
laboratories to develop a diverse set of non-HEU-based technologies to produce
Mo-99 in the United States.

The U.S. national laboratories aid GTRI's programmatic mission by conducting
research and development, engineering and design support, and proof of concept
demonstrations. Toward this goal, GTRI has been working with Los Alamos to
ensure its technical expertise is available to support GTRI's commercial
partners, including Morgridge Institute for Research-SHINE Medical
Technologies (MIR-SHINE), which proposes to use a particle accelerator to
produce Mo-99 from a mildly acidic LEU solution.

The Technical Demonstration

In support of MIR-SHINE's Mo-99 production efforts, researchers at Los Alamos
have successfully proven the technical viability of the initial stage of Mo-99
recovery from LEU solution through a direct scaled-down demonstration of the
proposed industrial process.

To undertake the necessary experimental validation, Los Alamos researchers
developed methodologies for preparing and analyzing uranium sulfate fuel,
safely containing the fuel during irradiation at a Los Alamos Neutron
Accelerator Science (LANSCE) facility and performing chemical flow-sheet
testing using a separation apparatus applicable to both low and high levels of

With a short half-life of 2.7 days, Mo-99 is a high specific-radioactivity
isotope. At production scale, the post-fission solution will contain only a
very small concentration of Mo-99. Unlike traditional HEU-based processes, the
challenge is to recover this material from a vast excess of LEU and leave the
uranium in the same chemical form to allow for recycling.

The team found that nearly all of the uranium could be recovered after Mo-99
separations were performed. The LEU fuel that passed through the column
separation process was irradiated again, and then once more the
fission-generated Mo-99 was separated in high yield. When the same fuel was
irradiated a third time, there was still no observable loss in the subsequent
Mo-99 recovery. The results confirm the viability of both the Mo-99 separation
process and uranium fuel recycling, which can lower operating costs and
minimize waste generation.

Capability Development and Future Plans

Los Alamos has a long tradition of producing radioisotopes for medical,
industrial, environmental, national security and research applications. The
Los Alamos team has now developed a wide suite of new capabilities and is
poised to serve the GTRI mission for present and future applications.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution
engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by
Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the
University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company and URS Corporation for
the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability
of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from
weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy,
environment, infrastructure, health and global security concerns.

SOURCE Los Alamos National Laboratory
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