Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
By Paul Vos Benkowski
JANESVILLE, Wisconsin — Back in 2009, Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as the stimulus package is known. Despite Ryan’s fiscally rightwing views, the chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee is happy to use stimulus funds to prop up his business constituents in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. One such business, SHINE Medical Technology, plans to ship radioactive waste in and out of Janesville, in southwest Wisconsin.
SHINE, or Subcritical Hybrid Intense Neutron Emitter — a euphemism for an isotope generator — is the name of the planned $84 million, 50,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. Ten million of the total is reportedly coming from the federal stimulus program. About 150 well-paying jobs have been touted in press releases about the project, set to be running by 2015. What has been overlooked in all the hoopla is what SHINE does and how they do it.
SHINE produces an isotope called molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) which in turn is processed at medical facilities to produce technetium-99m (tech-99m), a dangerous radioactive metal used to detect heart disease and determine stages of cancer. Because Mo-99 has a short half-life of 2.75 days, it is shipped worldwide to hospitals by specialized radiopharmaceutical companies. Tech-99m produced onsite has a half-life of just 6 hours, yet once the decay occurs the remaining isotope has a half-life of 212,000 years.
Unlike a reactor, the SHINE machine does not create a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Instead it uses a particle accelerator driven by electricity to produce neutrons using deuterium particles. The process produces free neutrons and the resulting Mo-99.
SHINE’s dangers include the likelihood of spills, transport accidents and missteps in the handling of radioactive waste. Company officials claim that only one truckload of waste per month will be shipped to either Utah or Texas for disposal. Details about the low-enriched uranium that will be delivered to the facility, where it comes from, or how often are unknown. The factory is an experiment but looks good on paper. The money behind the project and the promise of new jobs makes it an easy sell in Janesville. Unfortunately, the poor track record behind the production of Mo-99 can be seen in the shutdown reactor at Chalk River in Ottawa, Ontario and the corrosive remains of the leaky reactor in Patten, in The Netherlands. Both were once producers of medical isotopes.
— Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 24, 2012; National Public Radio, Aug. 16, 2012; and Janesville Gazette, May 9, 2012 & June 23, 2013