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Japan Devises HEU-Free Medical Isotope Production Method

A new technique has been devised in Japan for generating a key medical isotope without weapon-usable uranium, Jiji Press reported on Monday.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said the "plasma sintering" process had yielded a small quantity of molybdic andydride, which can reliably generate molybdenum 99 when exposed to neutrons in an atomic system designed for the purpose.

Molybdenum 99 through the decay process produces technetium 99m, which is employed widely in diagnostic medical procedures. International manufacturing sites in recent years have faced closures and problems that have contributed to the material's scarcity in Japan and elsewhere. In addition, production generally depends on use of highly enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

The developmental procedure -- pioneered by the nuclear agency in a project launched by the Japanese education ministry -- is anticipated to generate enough molybdenum 99 to supply between one-fifth and one-fourth of the quantity required in the island nation.

The goal is to make the process financially sustainable no later than fiscal 2015. The nuclear agency must next carry out trials of the technique for display at its Japan Materials Testing Reactor.

The atomic system is not presently in operation, though, and its reactivation has not been scheduled following the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

An atomic office insider urged Tokyo to endorse the test reactor's launch "as soon as possible to get (the project) rolling."

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