Research Reactor Section

CRP on Production of Mo-99 from LEU or Neutron Activation

N. Ramamoorthy, "Production and Supplies of Mo99: Lessons Learnt and New Options," BARC, India (2011)

IAEA Presentation on the CRP at the 2008 RERTR conference. (MS PowerPoint)

IAEA Paper on the CRP at the 2008 RERTR conference. (MS Word)

 Status of IAEA Mo-99 Activities.
(Presented in 11 June 2007 in NAS Medical Radioisotope Study Washington, DC)

IAEA Presentation on the CRP at the 2007 RERTR conference. (MS PowerPoint)

IAEA Paper on the CRP at the 2007 RERTR conference. (MS Word)

Mo-99 Publications and References. (MS Word)

1. Introduction

Technetium-99m, the daughter product of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), is the most commonly utilized medical radioisotope in the world, accounting for approximately 20–25 million medical diagnostic procedures annually, roughly 80% of all diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures. In line with RERTR, and the objective of minimizing and eventually eliminating the use of HEU in civil commerce, national and international efforts are underway to shift the production of medical isotopes from HEU to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) targets. A small but growing amount of the current global Mo-99 production is derived from the irradiation of LEU targets.

The IAEA became aware of the interest of a number of developing Member States that are seeking to become small scale, indigenous producers of Mo-99 to meet local nuclear medicine requirements. The IAEA initiated Coordinated Research Project (CRP) T.1.20.18 ´Developing techniques for small-scale indigenous production of Mo-99 using LEU or neutron activation´ in order to assist countries in this field.

2. Coordinated Research Projects (CRP)

A CRP is a collaborative research arrangement organized, executed, and funded by the IAEA to promote technology transfer through the dissemination of peaceful applications of new nuclear technologies. A CRP typically involves approximately five institutions from countries that have successfully implemented a particular nuclear or isotopic technique, and six to eight institutions that are seeking to establish the technology. (For full description of CRPs, see Technology contributing institutions (agreement holders) participate in the CRP free of charge. Technology adopting countries (contract holders) receive nominal funding from the IAEA (generally 4000 EUR per year) for an agreed set of activities, but must supplement the IAEA funding with institutional and national resources. CRPs are usually planned and structured based on a coordinated set of activities which will take place over a duration of 3–5 years.

3. Objectives and Purpose

The objectives of the CRP are to:

  • Assist member states with the adoption of LEU Cintichem (foil targets) or neutron activation (gel moly) technology for producing Mo-99,
  • Further demonstrate efficacy of LEU target and neutron activation production of Mo-99,
  • Foster capacity building for local/regional self-sufficiency to meet Mo-99 needs,
  • Advance international non-proliferation and nuclear security objectives, while promoting sustainable development and the sustainability of nuclear research institutes.

The CRP aims to assist recipients to research, test, and evaluate the LEU modified Cintichem process with LEU foil targets, and neutron activation of natural molybdenum oxide targets and utilization of gel generators. Contract holders will be assisted in evaluating options to access such technology, build their own technology, or purchase alternate LEU and neutron activation based technology. The experimental evaluation of such technology will be used to disseminate information of the technological options and requirements.

The CRP does not specifically include the objective of conversion to LEU of the large-scale, HEU-based commercial production of Mo-99. However, the IAEA has encouraged the active participation of the major commercial producers in carrying out the objectives of the CRP.

4. CRP Activities/Output

The technology transfer being carried out under the CRP includes the provision of technical expertise, information sharing between participants, the provision of some laboratory equipment and related materials, and specialized training and human resource development. It is expected that as a result of the work undertaken in the CRP, participants will obtain the necessary skills and technology to begin limited local production of Mo-99 from LEU targets and processing or from neutron activation for gel generators. The requirements for Mo-99 gel preparation following (n, gamma) production will also be reviewed. The final output will be an Agency publication that will review the work that occurred, results achieved, and to define standardized technological approaches.

5. Participants

Seven institutions in five countries have been awarded research contracts:

  • Chile: foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process
  • Egypt: LEU fission moly, gel generators (joined fall 2007)
  • Kazakhstan: gel generators
  • Libya: foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process
  • Pakistan: foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process
  • Romania (IFIN-HH): gel generators
  • Romania (Pitesti): foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process

Seven institutions in six countries have been awarded research agreements:

  • Argentina: LEU fission moly implementation
  • Republic of Korea: development of LEU foil targets
  • India: standardization of gel generators and feasibility of fission moly
  • Indonesia: development of LEU foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process
  • Poland: evaluation and implementation of LEU-modified Cintichem process (joined April 2007)
  • U.S.: (Argonne National Laboratory, ANL): foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process
  • U.S.: (University of Missouri Research Reactor): foil targets, LEU-modified Cintichem process; scope and level of work to obtain U.S. FDA approval for Mo-99 from LEU.

6. History

The project was initiated with an IAEA Consultants Meeting in Vienna in November 2004 and the CRP was approved by the IAEA Research Contracts Committee in February 2005. A Potential Mo-99 Producers Workshop was held in May 2005 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and following the workshop, interested countries submitted proposals for both research contracts and agreements. A Consultants Meeting was held in Vienna in July 2005 to review and select proposals, which were approved by the Research Contracts Committee in September 2005.

The first Research Coordination Meeting (RCM) was held 6–9 December 2005 in Vienna and finalized individual country work plans, established a set of coordinated activities for both fission and gel moly groups. This was quickly followed by a Workshop on LEU Foil Target Fabrication, Irradiation, and Chemical Processing Using the Modified Cintichem Technique, held at the National Atomic Energy Agency of Indonesia (BATAN) in Serpong, Indonesia from 6–11 March 2006. In addition to technology demonstrations, the action item list from the 1st RCM was reviewed, updated, and a number of items were added.

In November 2006, the IAEA hosted a Workshop on Operational Aspects of Mo-99 Production in Vienna 28–30 November 2006, which included lectures all aspects of Mo-99 production, logistics, environmental and waste management, and physical security, and had the benefit of industry participation.

The Second Research Coordination Meeting was held in Bucharest, Romania 16–20 April 2007. The status and progress of CRP participantsÿ activities were reviewed, as well as constraints, technical assistance requirements, and arrangements for future technical support. A number of relevant technical topics were discussed in detail, including target analyses, specifications for the LEU foil, thermal contact resistance of the targets, and requirements for cGMP. Updated and revised work plans for each of the contract holders (both fission and gel Mo-99) and an action item list including technical assistance requirements was prepared.

7. Developments in 2008

a. Intra-Participant Training Activities

The past year has witnessed a substantially increased level of technical assistance between participants of the CRP, especially in regard to training activities. Libya provided $30,000 to the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation for CRP-related training activities, and five Libyans received training in Argentina, Chile and Indonesia (all participants in the CRP).

  • 2 week training 10–19 March 2008 of one Chilean and two Libyan technicians at BATAN (Serpong), Indonesia, in LEU ingot rolling process, foil target fabrication, Cintichem process, waste treatment, radiological protection measurements and related topics;
  • 2 week training 18–29 August 2008 of a Polish technician at CCHEN, Chile, Fuel Element Production Plant in LEU annular target fabrication equipment design, assembly, welding, etc (2 Libyan technicians were also scheduled to participate but were unable to reach Chile due to transit problems);
  • 2 week training 8–20 June 2008 of a Libyan technician in QC for overall Mo-99 production at CNEA (Ezeiza), Argentina.
  • 1 week scientific visit in February 2008 of a Kazakhstan scientist to BRIT, India for familiarisation with portable gel moly generator technology.

b. Provision of Materials

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), a CRP research agreement holder, continued to supply sample natural uranium and LEU foils directly to several of the CRP contract and agreement holders with which it has existing nuclear cooperation arrangements. Foils were received by Argonne National Laboratory (for MURR) and Poland in fall 2007, and arrangements are near completion for the supply of assembled annular foil targets to Libya. KAERI is also continuing R&D activities related to enhancement of LEU foil production.

The IAEA received $70 000 from the Government of Libya for the procurement of various laboratory equipment, chemicals, reagents and other supplies for implementing the LEU Modified Cintichem process. As of the time of writing, after receiving bids from suppliers, the IAEA was clarifying the final list of items to be procured and planning to soon proceed with ordering.

c. Highlights of Progress

Participants continued to make sustained progress throughout the past year in regard to preparation for LEU target irradiation and processing or gel moly process development and standardization. Full details for each country are included in the paper presented to the RERTR 2008 conference which is attached. Work activities focused on:

  • additional thermohydraulic and neutronic calculations and analysis;
  • preparation and submittal of safety and regulatory documentation;
  • examination and preparation of LEU foils and investigation of ´foil plate targets;¡
  • equipment procurement and installation for annular target assembly;
  • trial target assembly and testing
  • hot cell and chemical processing preparation (including equipment procurement, cold testing);
  • equipment procurement and installation for target disassembly;
  • development of quality control measures and procedures
  • human resource development and training

d. Participation in Mo-99 Workshop of Global Initiative (GI) for Preventing Proliferation

The GI Workshop organised by NNSA/DOE, USA and ANSTO, Australia, was attended by 50 participants from 14 countries, with seven members of the CRP - Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Romania (Pitesti), and USA (both ANL and MURR) - and the IAEA making presentations. Most of the major industrial producers of Mo-99 also participated, as well as the Argentine industrial firm INVAP.

Over the course of the two and one-half day Workshop, detailed technical discussions were held on a range of issues relevant to Mo-99 production and HEU minimization. N. Ramamoorthy made a presentation on the IAEA CRP and other relevant IAEA activities, served as moderator of session 2 on Mo-99 Medical Uses and Projections, and served as a Member of the Executive Committee, ensuring inputs to the meeting report from all the new entrants for LEU target based Mo-99 production technology including the IAEA CRP team members present at Sydney.

8. Planned Near-Term Activities

The most important near-term activity is the Third RCM scheduled to be held 13–16 October 2008, hosted by the Missouri University Research Reactor (MURR) in Columbia, Missouri USA. This meeting will assess progress that has been attained by participating institutions toward the goals and objectives of the CRP and will revise the project coordinated work plan, individual work plans, and action items. It will also examine constraints and obstacles, and ways to over come them, in particular through technical assistance coordinated by the IAEA. Fission moly participants continue to prepare for the irradiation and processing of LEU targets and in 2009. Gel moly participants plan to carry out further activities toward portable gel generator production (Kazakhstan) and process upgrading (Magurele, Romania).

There is growing interesting this CRP, and in particular in the next RCM, from many industries and other stakeholders involved in the business of Mo-99 production and/or distribution. Many of them are likely to participate as observers in the next RCM, with some offering to make technical presentations.

It is also expected that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences study on producing medical radioisotopes without Highly Enriched Uranium will be released in fall 2008, which is likely to have an impact on further development of Mo-99 production.

The need for concerted efforts and international cooperation to assure vital medical; supplies of radioisotopes like Mo-99 has been further reinforced recently due to the coincidental shut-down of several reactors and associated facilities producing Mo-99 and the consequent disruptions in the supplies of Mo-99 affecting patient appointments in a large number of countries.

9. Financial Support

The U.S. Department of Energy/GTRI has made regular extrabudgetary contributions to the CRP each year (2005-2008), with financial support from DOE totalling over $350,000; DOE support is expected to continue the CRP in 2009-2011. The Government of Norway provided $15,000 in 2007 to support developing country participants, IAEA regular budget funds have supported contracts and travel of a number of participants, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative has provided direct financial support for project management. Libya made a $100,000 national contribution to support procurement of laboratory equipment and supplies and training of Libyan technicians.

10. Summary

Many members of the CRP continued to make excellent technical progress. Participants have demonstrated sustained commitment to the project, as well as creativity in their technical approaches. There is a keen interest to seek to extend the tenure of the CRP (say by two years) so as to enable further exchange of information and experience towards successful adaptation of Mo-99 production using LEU targets. Additional workshops to help strengthen QA aspects and waste handling are envisaged for comprehensively addressing all the requirements.

It is clear that many of the participants are developing human resources and physical infrastructure that will enable them to successfully carry out trial irradiation and processing of LEU targets, or production of gel generators, as a first step toward establishing small-scale Mo-99 production capabilities. Several participants have significant facilities which could be utilized in addressing global Mo-99 requirements, particularly in the face of increasing vulnerability regarding the availability of irradiation facilities to support commercial production of Mo-99.

However, it is likely that potential new Mo-99 producers will require partnerships, joint ventures, or other commercial arrangements with existing major producers and/or users of Mo-99 in order to become contributors to meeting global Mo-99 requirements and thus increasing the security of Mo-99 supply. The IAEA is encouraging relevant companies and institutions to have an open mind regarding possible relevant opportunities, but the discussion and of commercial arrangements is outside the scope of IAEA and CRP activities. The IAEA will be able to provide an effective forum to bring together all stakeholders for an objective analysis of requirements and consider options in the path forward.

The CRP is directly supportive of RERTR objectives, as it will help encourage the further use of LEU and neutron activation technologies by building experience and consensus on their use, within the context of an internationally-coordinated project. In addition, it will facilitate enhanced utilization of research reactors by increasing local production of radioisotopes, and consequently could serve to improve sustainability of such institutions.

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