Medical Isotopes and National Security

Most Americans do not know that as the inventor of nuclear technology that America does not supply its own medical isotopes (Molybdenum-99). Medical isotopes are used in nuclear imaging which allows physicians to explore the inside of your body without exploratory surgery. This practice has saved untold countless lives. Additionally, Molybdenum-99 is also used in chemotherapy treatment to combat and cure cancers. Affordable medical isotopes help to reduce medical costs and increase survivability through a superior method of diagnosis.

Due to an unfortunate series of events, in 1992 America’s last medical isotope producing reactor was closed by Cintichem in Tuxedo Junction, NY. Since 1992, America has largely relied on Canada and the Netherlands to produce most of our medical isotopes. Private industry has tried to step forward time and again to produce medical isotopes but the cost threshold for developing a new type of reactor is prohibitively expensive due to regulations and regulatory development. The foreign reactors we rely on are old, more prone to need maintenance, and in need of replacement.

As Canada has went the particle accelerator route to produce its medical isotopes for its people – at a much higher cost; Canada is seemingly intent on not replacing the capacity, economy, and efficiency  of its isotope producing Chalk River Reactor facility.

Additionally, as the Canadian and Netherlands reactor have aged, America and most of the rest of the world has developed an irrational fear of HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) and reactor based production of medical isotopes. The Canadian Chalk River Reactor and the Petten High Flux Reactor in the Netherlands have proven time and again those fears to be unfounded but nonetheless fear mongering shapes policy.

To think that suddenly, America, can no longer safely handle HEU, an amazingly powerful material capable of such wonderful things, even though America has handled such material for decades with out any substantive incidents, seems to be preposterous to those in the nuclear industry.

This has not stopped American think tanks funded by anti-nuclear millionaires from being successful in developing international policy to compel and pressure HEU users that produce medical isotopes to switch to LEU (Low Enriched Uranium). This is very problematic, especially now that our largest supplies of medical isotopes are coming from reactors nearing the end of their life cycle.

Just as America is having its two largest sources of medical isotopes shut down, the other minor producers of medical isotopes in the world have become much less efficient at producing medical isotopes because they have switched, by the insistence of American policy makers, to an inefficient LEU process. HEU is much more efficient and cost effective at producing medical isotopes than using an LEU process.

This has had he effect of these minor producers not being able to ramp up supply in case of any unforeseen shortages caused by maintenance and any extended shutdowns on the reactors we are dependent upon.

America is very much in a position of holding with baded breath in hoping that the High Flux Medical Isotope Reactor in Petten, Netherlands does not break down and cause a catastrophic shortage of isotopes.

While the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) has pursued trying to incubate “other-than-reactor" based novel technologies to produce medical isotopes; many have failed to live up to their hype and to their own development milestones. Nevertheless, eGeneration applauds all innovation in producing medical isotopes. The eGeneration foundation does not believe that there should be an “other-than-reactor" focus at the NNSA for producing medical isotopes. Nor do we believe that there is a problem with producing medical isotopes domestically with HEU. Nuclear reactors are not dangerous, HEU is not dangerous when handled correctly and with proper security, and the nuclear industry in America knows how to safely handle and store nuclear materials.

The eGeneration Foundation believes that misguided administrations and legislators influenced by anti-nuclear think tanks, poor policy choices, and faulty interpretations of the law have prevented the innovation in reactor technology needed for America to once again become a world leader at producing medical isotopes and other nuclear materials.

This is why we hope you will join with us in petitioning the United States Department of Energy for a rule making change that will greatly expand State and private research and investment into developing new nuclear technologies that will keep us safe, secure, and not dependent upon foreign countries for medical isotopes.

It is time to stop letting fear and anti-nuclear propaganda drive our policy decisions. Please consider submitting a rulemaking petition yourself.

***Sign the PETITION!!!***