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(Beloit, WI) By William Barth, BDN Editor

The NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes facility planned for Beloit is a step closer today with announcement the company has been awarded $22.2 million in federal funding.

The award is phase two of a cooperative agreement totaling $25 million through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative. The agreement marks the successful completion of an environmental assessment of NorthStar’s Beloit plan.

The money will be used for design and construction of the Beloit facility. Groundbreaking is expected in 2013.

NorthStar’s chairman, president and CEO George Messina told the Beloit Daily News he expects the first two linear accelerators to be operational in the first quarter of 2014.

Messina said the company has been refining engineering and design specifications for the facility, with an eye toward tighter cost controls and efficiencies. Original plans, he said, called for a facility of approximately 200,000 square feet in the Gateway Business Park, to include four units with each containing four linear accelerators.

Since, design improvements have allowed NorthStar to reduce the proposed plant’s footprint to about 82,000 square feet, and may reduce the number of linear accelerators from the original 16 to 14 without loss of productivity.

NorthStar has submitted preliminary drawings of the facility to the state agencies responsible for licensing and permitting. NorthStar’s facility will not require licensing or permitting from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NorthStar’s non-uranium-based technique — which reduces waste to very small quantities — will produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope used every day in the United States for more than 50,000 nuclear medical procedures.

Currently, Messina said, America’s entire supply is imported from foreign producers.

NorthStar aims to address supply shortages, security and logistical problems related to importation from foreign producers. The NorthStar process, by not relying on uranium-based raw materials, does not result in high-level radioactive waste. The environmental assessment — key to the phase two funding — is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. The National Nuclear Security Administration has issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for the NorthStar plan.

“We are very pleased to reach this major milestone in partnership with the NNSA,” Messina said. “NorthStar has been working diligently since 2007 to perfect our approach to the safe, sustainable production of molybdenum-99 and its daughter technetium-99m. With this funding and additional funding from our valued private investors, we take a significant stride toward our goal of producing as much as half of the required U.S. supply of molybdenum-99 by the end of 2014.”

Messina expressed confidence in the company’s prospects for success, citing the keys of aggressive cost control leading to competitive pricing, the reliability of domestic supply, and enhanced nuclear pharmacy productivity.

“All of our technology accomplishes these key points,” he said.

NorthStar expects to be the first company in the United States to produce molybdenum-99 beginning this coming summer with its partner the Missouri University Research Reactor in Columbia, Mo.

NorthStar’s Beloit facility will be the second facility in the United States to produce the isotope.

“Both facilities will run simultaneously and have the combined capability of producing 100 percent of the U.S. molybdenum-99 demand,” Messina said.

A press release from the NNSA noted America “does not have a domestic production capability for (molybdenum-99) and must import 100 percent of its supply from foreign producers, most of which use (highly enriched uranium) in their production processes.”

The release continued, “Technical difficulties and shutdowns at the major production facilities, and expectations that aging reactors will cease production of this crucial medical isotope emphasize the need to establish a reliable supply ... The (molybdenum-99) produced by NorthStar would provide additional reliability for the U.S. supply.”

In late September NorthStar began the approval process with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its unique approach to production.

NorthStar also has concluded an agreement with Hendricks Commercial Properties to develop its medical isotope facility in the Gateway park.

NorthStar was founded in 2006 and announced in 2011 its choice of Beloit for the home of its state-of-the-art production facility.

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