The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved construction of the SHINE Medical Isotope Facility in Janesville, Wisconsin, a 57,000 square-foot building dedicated to producing medical isotopes used for diagnostic testing and treatment. In a Feb. 25, 2016 press release, the NRC revealed that it’s the “first construction permit issued for either a non-power utilization or production facility by the NRC since 1985.”
The life-saving role of nuclear medicine
Although the SHINE medical isotope building will be a “first-of-its-kind” facility, nuclear medicine dates back to the 1930s, when scientists first began to investigate medical uses of radioactivity. The field of nuclear medicine centers on the internal use of radioactive substances to diagnose and treat disease.
Unlike external uses of radiology, such as X-Rays, nuclear medicine involves injecting radioactive substances into the body to study how a disease is progressing in specific organs and tissues. In addition to diagnostics, medical isotopes can be used for treatment—to actually kill or weaken diseased cells. Nuclear medicine is often referred to as “endoradiology” and described as radiation done “from the inside out.”
A response to domestic demand
SHINE’s new facility will, in part, support the company’s production of moly-99. The radioisotope transforms into tech-99m, a diagnostic agent used in more than 40 million medical procedures each year. It’s mainly used to diagnose heart disease and assess the progression of different cancers.
SHINE described the need for a domestic moly-99 production facility in a recent press release, saying:
“Despite constituting approximately half of world demand for moly-99, the U.S. does not produce any moly-99 domestically and imports 100 percent of its supply from foreign nuclear reactors. The majority of these reactors are beyond their original design life and scheduled to be shut down in the coming years. Previous outages of these aging facilities have caused major isotope shortages, significantly impacting patient care.”
Potential impact on the manufacturing industry
What separates the SHINE building from other high-tech medical facilities are the strict industry regulations it will likely need to meet during construction. As a nuclear facility, many building materials—as well as the processes by which they’re manufactured and assembled—must meet the stringent standards required by the NRC.
SHINE’s medical isotope building may signal the beginning of a new and unique wave of projects for NQA-1 suppliers—a divergence from more typical projects relating to nuclear waste and nuclear power.
The full impact of the SHINE facility approval on the manufacturing sector remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly marks a significant milestone for nuclear medicine in the United States.
At ABW, our 10 CFR-Part 50 Appendix B. NQA-1 Quality program allows us to provide custom metal fabrication for nuclear projects of any size and complexity.