OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – An innovative public-private partnership continues to grow after a nuclear innovation company recently announced additional work in Oak Ridge that will generate increased taxpayer savings while helping accelerate cancer treatment research.
New terms of an agreement between the company TerraPower and Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) contractor Isotek allow Isotek to conduct additional refining of thorium-229 (Th-229), a rare isotope extracted from uranium-233 (U-233).
The work will provide TerraPower with medical isotopes with higher purity for next-generation cancer research and treatment. Isotek will further refine the thorium before TerraPower transports the material to its research facility. Isotek will receive additional funds that can be invested back into the project.
EM’s highest priority at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory involves eliminating the inventory of U-233 currently stored in the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility. Isotek leads EM’s U-233 disposition project, which involves processing and downblending the remaining inventory into a form that can be safely shipped and disposed.
“It’s important to extract Th-229 from U-233 because Th-229 only comes from U-233,” Isotek Project Manager Sarah Schaefer said. “Since most of the world’s supply of U-233 is stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, once this material is dispositioned, there will be no more Th-229 available.”
The latest addition to the workflow will start later this year when Isotek begins processing a high-dose inventory of U-233 in hot cells. Currently, employees are processing the low-dose inventory. Hot cells are radiation containment chambers.
Isotek is expected to extract enough Th-229 to allow TerraPower to produce 100 times more cancer treatment doses per year than the 4,000 doses currently available worldwide to patients with prostate cancer, melanoma, leukemia, and glioma.
EM, TerraPower, and Isotek first announced their partnership, called New Life for Cancer Research, in November 2019. Through the partnership, TerraPower paid Isotek to extract medical isotopes before the U-233 is processed for permanent disposal. Isotek, in turn, used the funds it received to accelerate the U-233 disposition project, generating an estimated $90 million in savings to taxpayers.
EM and Isotek were awarded a Secretary of Energy Achievement Award this year for their work related to the New Life for Cancer Research project. It is one of the highest honors DOE employees and contractors can receive for their service and contributions to the DOE’s mission and the benefit to the country.
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