Office of Environmental Management

Oak Ridge Collaboration to Advance Cancer Treatment, Accelerate Cleanup

November 26, 2019

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Officials cut a ribbon on Nov. 22 to mark the launch of a new public-private partnership set to provide unique isotopes to aid in next-generation cancer research and treatment as well as nuclear cleanup.
Officials cut a ribbon on Nov. 22 to mark the launch of a new public-private partnership set to provide unique isotopes to aid in next-generation cancer research and treatment as well as nuclear cleanup.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.DOE unveiled an innovative public-private partnership on Nov. 22 set to provide unique isotopes to aid in next-generation cancer research and treatment as well as nuclear cleanup.

DOE Deputy Under Secretary for Science T.L. Cubbage and Ike White, head of the EM program, were joined by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, and more than 100 others at an event announcing the new partnership.

Isotek, the contractor responsible for EM’s Uranium-233 disposition project, is extracting thorium from the Uranium-233 inventory stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) before it is processed into a disposal-ready form. Nuclear innovation company TerraPower will then use the extracted thorium to support cancer treatment research. Watch this video to learn more about the isotope extraction process.

“At the end of the day this means the Department is able to accelerate our mission of eliminating the inventory of fissile material at the lab, while enabling next generation cancer research, all at a cost savings to the American taxpayers,” Cubbage said. “It doesn't get much better than that. Finding beneficial uses that provide rare and much-needed tools for the medical community, spending fewer taxpayer dollars, and accelerating a project that will eliminate risks.”

DOE Deputy Under Secretary for Science T.L. Cubbage addresses the more than 150 attendees at the Nov. 22 event unveiling the public-private partnership.
DOE Deputy Under Secretary for Science T.L. Cubbage addresses the more than 150 attendees at the Nov. 22 event unveiling the public-private partnership.

Due to a supply shortage, the availability of the cancer treatments TerraPower is seeking to expand is limited to one in 5,500 patients. However, through the partnership, the company expects to offer nearly 1 million doses per year for treatments to patients with prostate cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and glioma.

“As a nuclear innovation company, TerraPower seeks work that is both challenging and of great importance to humankind,” TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said. “We are excited to partner on this effort and expect positive health outcomes as a result. And I’m proud of the TerraPower isotopes team for making it possible.”

As the partnership produces vital material for future cancer research, it will have another beneficial result: expediting removal of legacy nuclear material currently stored at ORNL at a savings to the federal government.

“This partnership is a success for all involved,” said Jay Mullis, manager of DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. “Through Isotek’s innovative approach, we are able to accelerate one of our highest priority projects, spend less taxpayer dollars to complete the project, and provide material that will greatly benefit the public in the future.”

DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management fissionable material handlers open a canister containing Uranium-233 to begin the extraction process.
DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management fissionable material handlers open a canister containing Uranium-233 to begin the extraction process.

As a result of the partnership, Isotek is scheduled to begin downblending the remaining inventory of Uranium-233 for disposal a year ahead of schedule, saving approximately $90 million in taxpayer dollars.

Completing the disposition of Uranium-233 is EM’s highest priority project at ORNL. The project removes a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility located in the heart of one of the nation’s most important scientific research sites.

“This partnership has created an additional rewarding mission for us,” Isotek President Jim Bolon said. “Everyone at Isotek has been impacted or knows someone impacted by cancer, and this opportunity to provide a rare isotope in the fight against cancer while accelerating the disposition of Cold War legacy materials inspires everyone working on the U-233 disposition project.”

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