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Nuclear material slated for disposal at ORNL to be used to advance cancer research and treatment

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — State leaders unveiled a plan Friday to use nuclear material to advance cancer research and treatment, and save taxpayers a total of $90 million. 

Isotek Systems, TerraPower, and the U.S. Department of Energy announced the public-private partnership agreement together. 

In an effort to significantly increase the number of cancer treatment doses available annually, Isotek will extract and provide Thorium-229 to TerraPower for the production of Actinium-225. 

Isotek is the DOE contractor tasked with eliminating the inventory of uranium-233 currently stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Isotek is using the proceeds from the sale of the Thorium-229 to privately fund portions of the Uranium-233 Disposition Project. This approach allows downblending operations to begin a year ahead of schedule, accelerates the overall project schedule, and saves approximately $90 million taxpayer dollars,” the DOE release said.

Partnership using nuclear material slated for disposal to advance cancer research and treatment


According to the Department of Energy, through the agreement, Isotek personnel are extracting thorium from the uranium-233 inventory that TerraPower will use to support cancer treatment research through the medical application of radioisotope technologies. The DOE said this is a key project under TerraPower’s nuclear innovation mission.

This partnership is not only producing vital material for future cancer research, but the Department of Energy said it is also expediting the removal of legacy nuclear material currently stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at a cost reduction to the federal government.

“This partnership is a success for all involved,” said Jay Mullis, manager of DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.

Isotek is using the funds it receives from the sale of these rare materials to accelerate one of DOE’s highest priority projects in Oak Ridge. 

“Through Isotek’s innovative approach, we are able to accelerate one of our highest priority projects, spend less taxpayer dollars to complete the project, and provide material that will greatly benefit the public in the future,” Mullis said. 

The arrangement provides TerraPower the capacity to produce 100 times more cancer treatment doses per year than the 4,000 currently available world-wide.

Officials said it lets officials reuse material that would otherwise be irretrievably lost during downblending operations to convert the remaining inventory of uranium-233 into a disposal-ready form.

Partnership using nuclear material slated for disposal to advance cancer research and treatment


It also reportedly takes a significant risk from Oak Ridge. 

“Completing the Uranium-233 Disposition Project removes a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in a 1940s-era building at a world-leading scientific research site,” the release said.  

DOE Deputy Under Secretary for Science T.L. Cubbage was joined by Senator Marsha Blackburn, U.S. Representative Chuck Fleishmann and senior leadership from TerraPower, Isotek, and Isotek’s parent companies— Atkins and SNC-Lavalin— at the event. 

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