US govt contract for SA medical isotopes


5 November 2010

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation and its subsidiary, NTP Radioisotopes, have won a US$25-million (about R169.4-million) United States government contract to develop technology for commercial production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 using “proliferation-resistant” low enriched uranium.

Necsa will collaborate on the project with the Australian National Nuclear Research and Development Organisation (Ansto).

The awarding of the contract recognised the fact that South Africa had “successfully implemented the world’s first large-scale, all-low enriched uranium production of this critical medical isotope,” Necsa said in a statement this week.

Move away from highly enriched uranium

The award, from the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), comes amid an international shortage of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), as well as US-led drive to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

“NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative works with our partners around the world to minimise the use of highly enriched uranium in civilian nuclear applications,” the NNSA’s Ken Baker said in a statement last week.

Molybdenum-99 is a radio isotope produced during nuclear fission. Its “daughter radio isotope”, technetium-99m, is used in numerous medical procedures.

World’s leading producer of medical radio isotopes

Business Day writer Tamar Kahn said this week that the deal would give impetus to Necsa’s shift to industrial applications of low-enriched uranium.

CEO Rob Adam told Business Day that Necsa was already the world’s leading producer of medical radio isotopes, exporting to 55 countries.

Necsa’s Safari reactor is the world’s biggest producer of Mo-99, Adam said, although most of it is still derived from high-enriched uranium, while that derived from low-enriched uranium was currently about 20% more expensive to produce.

The contract would enable Necsa, in partnership with Ansto, to improve the technology and lower costs, Adam told Business Day.

SAinfo reporter

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material