U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals

October 2021

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took domestic and international strides toward securing and eliminating nuclear materials over the past two months.

The NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, on Aug. 27 awarded $37 million to the Wisconsin-based company NorthStar Medical Technologies to advance the domestic supply of a vital medical isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), that is used daily in tens of thousands of medical procedures and cancer diagnoses.

In the past, U.S. medical facilities obtained Mo-99 from foreign sources that primarily produced the isotope by way of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used to fuel nuclear weapons and thus presents a nuclear proliferation risk if stolen or diverted. Congress called on the NNSA in 2012 to establish the Mo-99 Program in order to promote a reliable domestic supply of the isotope and to reduce the potential use of HEU for nuclear weapons proliferation.

In addition, the NNSA launched on Aug. 30 the RadSecure 100 initiative aimed at enhancing domestic radiological security. Through partnerships with local businesses, medical centers, and law enforcement, this initiative aims to remove high-priority radioactive material from some U.S. facilities while boosting security at the remaining facilities in 100 U.S. cities. It will also focus on ensuring secure transportation of high-risk radioactive sources.

Overseas, the United States and Norway cemented a plan to fully eliminate Norway’s HEU by blending it down to low-enriched uranium. Down-blending the concentration of HEU to a level below 20 percent uranium-235 prevents its weaponization. The project will begin in 2022, announced Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø on Sept. 1.

This agreement “lays an important foundation for Norway to get rid of its nuclear weapons-usable material,” said Nybø. “We are thus delivering at home what Norway and the United States have worked towards globally for several years: reducing the use of HEU in the civilian sector.” Once the down-blending is completed, Norway will become the 34th country to be considered HEU free.—MARY ANN HURTADO