Medical Isotope Production Without HEU (2009)Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board
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Highly enriched uranium, or HEU, is used in the production of medical isotopes, particularly molybdenum-99, which is used in the majority of medical diagnostic imaging procedures in the United States. Highly enriched uranium is also used in nuclear explosive devices, so the U.S. Government is trying to minimize its use in civilian applications. At the request of Congress, this report assesses the feasibility of producing medical isotopes without highly enriched uranium. The report finds that production of molybdenum-99 with low enriched uranium (LEU) has been demonstrated. Existing facilities might have to be modified to enable LEU-based production, but the report concludes that the average cost increase of conversion would likely be less than 10 percent. The report also concludes that, at present, there is not enough LEU-produced molybdenum to meet U.S. needs but finds no reason that adequate quantities could not be produced in the future. The report encourages molybdenum-99 producers commit to conversion, announce a best-effort schedule for selecting and implementing an LEU-based production process, and identify additional needs for technical assistance.