The US Department of Energy (DOE) is requesting comments on whether there is a sufficient supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo‑99) to meet medical needs without the export of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the United States. Comments are due by December 27, 2019. The comments will support a certification that the secretary of Energy must submit in early 2020 pursuant to the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-239, 126 Stat. 2211 (the Act). The content of this certification will determine whether the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will have authority to issue HEU export licenses for Mo-99 production in foreign research and test reactors.
According to the notice in the November 27 Federal Register, “Historically, the United States has not had the capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and, until 2018, imported 100 percent of its supply from international producers, some of which was produced using targets fabricated with proliferation sensitive HEU.” Congress passed the Act as part of a decades-long effort to ensure domestic availability of Mo‑99, which is used in medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. According to the notice, approximately 80% of all of these procedures depend on the use of technetium-99, a decay product of Mo-99. Importantly, Section 3174 of the Act amended the Atomic Energy Act to prohibit the NRC from issuing licenses to export HEU from the United States for purposes of medical isotope production, effective seven years from the date of enactment of the Act. The Act became law on January 2, 2013, and thus the ban on NRC export licenses is scheduled to go into effect in early 2020, unless it is extended through a certification from the Energy secretary.