SHINE reaches milestone with federal agency

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Jim Leute
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

JANESVILLE—A government shutdown and thorough work by a federal agency that hasn't licensed a medical isotope facility since 1961 likely will delay production of medical isotopes in Janesville by a few months.

But that hasn't dampened the spirits of representatives of SHINE Medical Technologies who were in Janesville on Tuesday for their twice-annual community briefings.

In fact, company officials were upbeat Tuesday, having learned earlier in the day that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for review the second half of SHINE's application to build an $85 million medical isotope production plant on the city's south side.

SHINE is working toward regulatory approval for a plant that will use low-enriched uranium in a series of eight accelerators to produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope used in more than 30 kinds of diagnostic imaging procedures and more than 40 million medical imaging tests each year.

The company wants to fill a void expected when two other nuclear reactors that use highly enriched uranium to produce isotopes are taken out of service in 2016 and 2020. The plants in Canada and the Netherlands are the world's leading isotope suppliers.

Within its first year of production, SHINE estimates it will generate annual revenues of $200 million.

The NRC review is by far the most daunting SHINE will face, said Greg Piefer, SHINE's founder and chief executive officer.

The federal agency has determined the company's application is complete and includes what is required. The agency will now spend the next year or so technically reviewing the document, which at a very minimum is 4,000 pages, Piefer said.

The NRC soon will publish a review schedule that identifies significant milestones and an expected review completion date. There will be opportunities for public involvement.

SHINE originally planned to start production in late 2016, but the federal government shutdown and the NRC's early review of the permit application will push that into 2017.

Piefer said the first half of SHINE's application was accepted earlier this year, and the NRC did have questions that were answered in another 4,000 pages of documents, all within a 30-day window.

“I think it really shows that the NRC is doing its best work on this, as it should,” Piefer said. “This is first-of-a-kind technology for them, and they haven't licensed an isotope plant since 1961, so they're doing their due diligence.”

Piefer said SHINE would employ 150 people when it opens, most in high-paying technical jobs that he believes can be filled with local talent. The company is working with Blackhawk Technical College to locally incorporate a curriculum that's been used successfully in other parts of the state.

The company plans to start hiring nuclear, chemical and mechanical engineers next year and will likely round out the plant's staff in 2016.

Piefer said SHINE continues to seek investors for the project, which by the time it opens will cost about $180 million.

The federal government has committed $25 million to the project, and the city of Janesville has offered a $9 million development agreement—including private loan guarantees—that is contingent on the company meeting several benchmarks, including federal licensing and the creation of at least 125 high-paying jobs.

While declining to say what's been raised so far, Piefer said he's confident the company will raise what's needed to build the plant and begin production.

“Of course, you don't know until it's done,” he said. “We feel pretty good about it, but the question is, can we raise it fast enough to stay on track?

“We've spent $30 million already, and we've got a great head start on other people who are looking at this market," he said. "That's important when we're out talking to potential investors.”

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