NNSA’s Office of Material Management and Minimization (M3) manages the Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) Program as part of its mission to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in civilian applications. HEU is a proliferation-sensitive material that, if diverted or stolen, could be used as a component of a nuclear weapon. The Mo-99 Program assists global Mo-99 production facilities in converting to low-enriched uranium (LEU) and supports the establishment of domestic supplies of Mo-99 without the use of proliferation-sensitive HEU. 

The U.S. medical community depends on a reliable supply of the radioisotope Mo-99 for nuclear medical diagnostic procedures. Mo-99's decay product, technetium-99m (Tc-99m), is used in over 40,000 medical procedures in the United States each day to diagnose heart disease and cancer, to study organ structure and function, and to perform other important medical applications. For example, patients undergoing a common procedure—the cardiac “stress test”—likely have benefited from Tc-99m. 

Conversion of International Molybdenum-99 Producers from HEU to LEU

The majority of Mo-99 supplied to U.S. patients is currently provided by foreign producers.  Historically, most of this Mo-99 was produced using HEU targets, but all major producers now use LEU targets. NNSA provided financial and technical assistance to South Africa’s NTP Radioisotopes, the Netherlands’ Curium, and Belgium’s National Institute of Radioelements for the conversion to LEU targets. The fourth major producer, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, has always used LEU targets. 

The progress made in converting global Mo-99 producers to LEU targets enabled the U.S. Secretaries of Energy and Health and Human Services to jointly certify in December 2021 that there is a sufficient global supply of Mo-99 produced without the use of HEU to meet the needs of U.S. patients. This certification triggered a ban on U.S. exports of HEU for foreign medical isotope production. 

Domestic Molybdenum-99 Program

In 2012, Congress passed the American Medical Isotopes Production Act (AMIPA), which directed NNSA to establish a technology-neutral program to support the establishment of domestic supplies of Mo-99 without the use of HEU. NNSA has implemented this by competitively awarding 50%/50% cost-shared cooperative agreements to commercial entities and providing funds to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Laboratories to support development of non-HEU Mo-99 production technologies. NNSA’s collaboration with U.S. industry has achieved historic results. In November 2018, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes began the first domestic production in nearly 30 years, using a reactor-based production technology with molybdenum-98 targets. 

NNSA currently manages four cooperative agreements with three U.S. companies, all developing diverse non-HEU Mo-99 production technologies: 

  • NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC (Beloit, Wisconsin) 
    • Reactor-based production using molybdenum-98 targets 
    • Accelerator-based production using molybdenum-100 targets 
  • SHINE Technologies, LLC (Janesville, Wisconsin) 
    • Accelerator-based production using a liquid uranium target 
  • Niowave, Inc. (Lansing, Michigan) 
    • Accelerator-based production using solid uranium targets  

NNSA also provides funding to the National Laboratories to ensure that their technical expertise and specialized facilities are available to support the development of domestic Mo-99 technologies. The work at the National Laboratories is funded separately from the cooperative agreements and the results of the work are non-proprietary and available to the public via the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Technical Information

Uranium Lease and Take-Back Program

Additionally, per AMIPA, NNSA and DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) jointly manage the Uranium Lease and Take-Back Program (ULTB). Under this program, NNSA makes LEU available through lease contracts for the domestic production of Mo-99 for medical uses. In cases where DOE determines the producer does not have a commercially available disposal path, EM will take title to and be responsible for the final disposition of spent nuclear fuel and/or radioactive waste created by Mo-99 production. The ULTB Program will recover all costs associated with implementation of the program from the ULTB customers. DOE/NNSA encourages any producer interested in utilizing the ULTB program to begin discussions with DOE/NNSA at least two years in advance of needing LEU for Mo-99 production.