Monday, January 25, 2010

John Rowe and GE’s Radioisotopes

clip_image001In an interesting story in today’s USA Today, Julie Schmit profiles Exelon’s chairman, John Rowe. He’s always worth attending to on nuclear issues, though the selection of quotes here is, shall we say, a little strange:

"I'm very depressed."

"My dad felt about cows the way I feel about nuclear plants. They're a business, not a passion."

"We're constantly looking for something dead in the plains."

We’ll let you read the article for the context of these quotes – you’re probably curious about what’s dead in the plains.

We will let you know that Rowe is depressed about the prospect for a climate change bill this year, yet confident there will be a bill because climate change concerns won’t end. 

And Rowe insists climate legislation will be good for the environment as well as Exelon, which generates 92 percent of its electricity through nuclear energy.

We always admire Rowe for his very frank assessments and this article captures that quality if a little over-interested in some of the more colorful quotes.

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You may have heard that the supply of radioisotopes for medical use has dropped precipitously due to the temporary closing of two plants in Canada and Belgium.

The shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Canada has caused a shortage of a radioactive isotope used to detect cancers and heart disease, forcing doctors into costlier procedures that can be less effective and expose patients to more radioactivity.

That was from August of last year. As we’ve seen with the climate change bill, it might require a tidal wave over the east coast to spur Congressional action. Well, consider this a metaphorical tidal wave in the world of medical isotopes – and thus the rapidity of a practical solution.

GE said on Monday the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration awarded its GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy unit $4.5 million to develop radioisotopes using a new technology that does not require highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can also be used to develop nuclear weapons.

And what will this plant do?

GE said its technology could meet at least half of the projected supply needs for MO-99.

Technetium-99, a radioactive byproduct of MO-99, is used in more than 14 million nuclear medicine procedures in the United States each year.

And that’s just the U.S. There’s still a lot of questions, such as whether this work will continue once the Canadian plant returns to service (we would say yes, especially since GE has a nuclear medicine unit, so this is right in its roundhouse) and the relative competitiveness of its approach.

We’ve heard that other companies may have announcements in this area as well. The end result may be to free the United States from any need to import this material and, into the bargain, create a market for exports that didn’t exist here before. Both qualify as unalloyed good news.

John Rowe, not looking too depressed.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would think that if anyone were to ask, the HFIR team at Oak Ridge Labs could step up to the plate. ORNL has always been the US's go-to for isotopes.

Anonymous said...

Well, this won't be a new plant. GE-Hitachi is looking at doing neutron-capture Mo-99 by having large targets of enriched Mo-98 irradiated in a reactor. This was a standard way of making Mo-99 for Tc-99m back in the 1970s and 1980s until fission Mo-99 edged it due to massively higher specific activities.

GE-Hitachi apparently thinks they have a way to get higher specific activities out of N-gamma moly than that achieved a few decades ago since they think they can supply up to half the US market. More power to them, but this approach is inherently limited by the small cross-section for Mo-98.

HFIR is a possibility. More likely GE would split production between there and the MU Research Reactor, which did a lot of n-gamma moly years ago. Maybe there are some TRIGAs out there or maybe MIT could pitch in as well. It would be great to have them add that supply to the mix - but it will require a new type of Tc-99m generator as well.

DocForesight said...

Yes, we really need a climate change bill in light of the ClimateGate emails/data massaging/peer-review obstruction, the Himalayan Glaciergate non-peer-reviewed data pronouncement and the whole UN IPCC meltdown thanks to Dr. Pachauri, et al.

As with other alarmist warnings from years past, can we slow down and reassess the data and policies before we take an exceedingly expensive step towards what is, at least, controversial science?

Anonymous said...

Doc --

Who needs global warming? Coal dumps millions of tons of polyaromatic hydrocarbons and toxic metals into the US every year, and we send a trillion-ish dollars a year to the petrofascist dictatorships. Anti-carbon legislation is a good idea, even without global warming.

Phil said...

Who needs global warming? Coal dumps millions of tons of polyaromatic hydrocarbons and toxic metals into the US every year, and we send a trillion-ish dollars a year to the petrofascist dictatorships. Anti-carbon legislation is a good idea, even without global warming.

Not to mention the catastrophic effects of mountaintop removal mining.

DocForesight said...

Fella's -
I'm all in favor of reducing coal-fired power plants and replacing them with nuclear (a la www.coal2nuclear.com). Until the small or moderate-sized modular reactors become commercially available and other advanced designs like LFTR or IFR, we'll have to endure coal as a resource.

Many, though not all, coal-fired plants have improved their emissions thanks to the Clean Air Act. In that case, low-grade coal was replaced with a known commodity, low-sulfur coal. Now the bar is raised to include removing CO2, for which the technology doesn't yet exist.

Remember, the environmentalists are rarely satisfied, no matter where you draw the line or what concessions you make with them.

Anonymous said...

Doc sez: "Until the small or moderate-sized modular reactors become commercially available and other advanced designs like LFTR or IFR, we'll have to endure coal as a resource."

Well, Westinghouse did some market research with the power companies way back when. Eventually leading to the AP600. Once that design was approved the potential customers said, "too small." Hence the AP1000. Even that is now too small for some tastes, see the 1500 MW and higher outputs touted by Areva, and the Japanese, and the Koreans.

Phil said...

Many, though not all, coal-fired plants have improved their emissions thanks to the Clean Air Act. In that case, low-grade coal was replaced with a known commodity, low-sulfur coal. Now the bar is raised to include removing CO2, for which the technology doesn't yet exist.

Doc, I recommend Jeff Goodell's book "Big Coal". There is plenty of VERY DIRTY coal still out there. "Improved Emissions" is a relative term.

And there still is the unfortunate environmental catastrophe that is Mountaintop Removal Mining, and slurry ponds, and miles - long coal trains, and fly ash, and the solid waste from coal burning. The list goes on and on and on.

Coal needs to end.