How many people does it take to produce two milk jug-size bottles of radioactive isotopes? A company called Northwest Medical Isotopes thinks it will take between 75 and 85 employees to produce molybdenum-99.
Mo-99, as it is known, is used in diagnostic medical testing after it decays into technetium-99. It is used as a radioactive tracer in bone, kidney, heart and lung scans. There’s a huge need for it, and it is almost always in short supply. The World Nuclear Association said Mo-99 was used in 16.7 million procedures in the U.S. in 2012.
The stuff is pretty touchy. It’s created by bombarding uranium atoms with neutrons. Six percent of what results is Mo-99, which the company then extracts and purifies. After that, it must be transported from where it’s made to medical facilities across the country and used within 66 hours, the half-life of Mo-99.
When Northwest Medical Isotopes opens its plant in Columbia, it will be the only company in the country making Mo-99. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are five major producers in the world — one each in Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, Belgium and France. The facility in Canada, which produced 40 percent of the world’s Mo-99 supply in 2009, is set to close 2018 because of aging equipment.