Energy Official Visits Wisconsin Isotope Makers; More Federal Funds May Follow

Sep 14, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak in Janesville Monday. His campaign appearance comes a few days after a Trump administration appointee, Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Mark Menezes, traveled to the Janesville-Beloit area. Menezes’ visit highlighted the potential of more federal funding for two companies involving in making radioisotopes used in diagnosing medical problems. 

First, Menezes toured SHINE Technologies, which is building a facility scheduled to start commercial production of the isotope molybdenum-99, or moly-99, in 2022. SHINE received $25 million during the Obama administration and $15 million, so far, during President Trump's time in office. The company has also had to raise and spend private money to qualify for the federal aid.

SHINE recently announced another $80 million in private financing. But Menezes said the potential of more taxpayer help for the Wisconsin-based company, through funds recently announced as available, is justified.

"Well, they raised 80 million, and this is the first of a kind, this is the only of a kind. So, you have to keep this is in mind. It hasn't been done anywhere else in the United States, it hasn't been done anywhere else in the world,” Menezes told news reporters during a very brief question and answer session.

Mark Menezes, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, speaks at the SHINE Technologies construction site on Sept. 11, 2020.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

SHINE plans to use low-enriched uranium to make moly-99. For about a decade, the federal government has been supporting the development of domestic production of the radioisotope that doesn't require the highly-enriched uranium used in some commercial nuclear power reactors and in nuclear weapons.

SHINE founder and CEO Greg Piefer said he expects to apply for the new round of federal money, saying it would accelerate making moly-99.

"The plant we're building can have eight production systems. We're initially going to put in two. If we were to receive federal assistance, we could go much more quickly to eight, which would supply a much more robust supply for the U.S. sooner,'' Piefer said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still reviewing SHINE's application for an operating license.

The NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes building in Beloit.
Credit Photo supplied by NorthStar

Menezes also visited NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes in Beloit, which already helps produce moly-99 using two other methods, including through a partnership with a research nuclear reactor at the University of Missouri. Northstar has received $65 million in federal aid and has matched that amount through private fundraising. The company says it intends to apply for the next round of financing. 

NorthStar originally invited WUWM to be along for Deputy Secretary Menezes visit there. But when a press aide to Menezes learned of that Friday morning, she contacted the company, and it withdrew its invitation.  NorthStar apologized, saying it was unaware all media would need to be cleared through the Department of Energy and "regretfully that did not happen." NorthStar and  SHINE welcomed a WUWM reporter to their sites earlier this year.

Also, given the Menezes trip to Janesville and Beloit during the presidential election campaign, WUWM reached out, twice, to the campaign of Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden for comment. There was no reply.

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