Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 25 No. 39
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor
Article 5 of 9
October 08, 2021

NNSA Seeking Comment on Prolonging Uranium Exports for Mo-99 Beyond January

By Dan Leone

A two-year extension on highly enriched uranium exports for production of the Molybdenum-99 medical isotope is set to come to an end in January, but the National Nuclear Security Administration on Tuesday started taking public comments about extending those exports.

Federal law effectively allows the Secretary of Energy to unilaterally extend exports of highly enriched uranium for Molybdenum-99 production until 2026. The first, and so far only, time a DOE secretary used that authority was in January 2020, in the final days of the Donald Trump administration, when then-Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette extended exports for two years — a boon for Belgium’s Institute for Radioelements in Fleurus, Belgium.

Now, according to notice published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is seeking public comment about whether the agency might need to keep the transatlantic uranium-molybdenum pipeline in service for a little while longer.

Molybdenum-99 is a source for technetium-99m, a gamma-emitting isotope used as an imaging aid for some medical diagnoses. Despite some commercial appetite to produce the isotope domestically, the U.S. has historically imported almost all of its Molybdenum-99 from abroad. That has struck a sour note from some proponents of domestic manufacture, who argue that those aspiring to create the medical isotope without using highly enriched uranium are being punished for their proliferation safeguards.

DOE has until Jan. 2 to certify to Congress that either there is enough Molybdenum-99 to cease manufacture of the isotope using U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium, or that uranium exports should continue because there is no other way to meet domestic demand in the near term.

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