Isotope manufacturer talks safety
JANESVILLE Representatives of a medical isotope manufacturer that plans to build a plant in Janesville left town encouraged by a growing interest in their project.
SHINE Medical Technologies held a public meeting Wednesday to update the community on plans to build an $85 million production plant on Janesville's south side.
The session, attended by about 50 people, ended with questions, most of which centered on plant and community safety.
Starting in 2016, the plant will use low-enriched uranium in a series of eight accelerators to produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope used in more than 30 different diagnostic imaging procedures that are performed more than 50,000 times each day in the U.S.
Between now and then, the company will continue to develop its team and technology, design the 50,000-square-foot facility on Highway 51 across from the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, and work through a highly-structured regulatory process to get an operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Inherent in all of those elements is safety, said Greg Piefer, founder and chief executive officer of the company, which for now is working out of a demonstration facility in Monona.
"In a business like this, you can't run it unless safety is the highest priority," Piefer said. "We just can't run the business if our own workers and the surrounding community don't feel safe."
SHINE is one of three U.S. companies supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration as it pushes for a more reliable and diverse supply of Mo-99. The isotope is primarily used for detecting heart disease and determining stages of cancer progression.
Historically, most Mo-99 used in the United States has been produced in Canada and the Netherlands using highly enriched uranium in high-power research reactors. Both the Canadian and Netherlands reactors are operating beyond their licensed lives, and they're scheduled to shut down in 2016 and 2020, respectively.
Janesville resident Bill McCoy asked what SHINE was doing to guarantee the safety of the community and its air and water quality.
Piefer and other SHINE officials said the company is developing a detailed safety plan that will be scrutinized and approved by local, state and federal regulators well before the plant is operational.
While McCoy said the community deserves to see the plan now, Piefer said it is a work in progess that both the company and regulators are determined to get right.
"If we were starting production tomorrow, I'd be worried that the plan is still under development," Piefer said. "But we're not. We've still got some time."
Piefer said the facility is expected to create about 150 well-paying jobs, many of which could be filled by students with degrees from nearby Blackhawk Technical College.
Construction could start in late 2014 or early 2015. Equipment will be installed and tested in early 2016, with production starting in June of that year to meet expected shortages of Mo-99.
"It's an ambitious project and ambitious timeline," he said. "It will be close, but we think we can meet it."
SHINE will continue to hold community updates about every six months, Piefer said.