SHINE Medical Technologies is now the proud owner of 91 acres that have historically been farmland on Janesville’s south side.
In a few years, that property will be poised to go nuclear.
Medical radioisotope startup SHINE announced Wednesday that the city has transferred ownership of a parcel east of the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport—land where the company plans to build what could be the first privately operated medical radioisotope production facility in the country.
The transfer is “more than symbolic” for SHINE in its decade-long quest to break ground in Janesville and crack the domestic radioisotope market, Vice President Katrina Pitas said.
The city has been holding the land in escrow since it signed a landmark, $9 million tax-increment financing deal with SHINE in 2012, including land and loans.
In 2017, the city gave SHINE an expansion to the TIF deal that is tied to the company actually moving forward with production of Molybdenum-99, which is used in a variety of medical tests.
The property transfer hinged on the company meeting a set of requirements, including getting local and federal construction approval and proving through financial audits that it can remain commercially viable through the construction of the facility, Pitas said.
SHINE has said it intends to break ground in April on the 45,000-square-foot moly-99 production plant, but it first needed to own the land. The TIF deal included conveyance of $1.5 million in land, but that—and the official deed paperwork—were the smallest hurdles.
“The city was really savvy when they wrote the TIF agreement. They weren’t going to just give land to this startup company with no prospects,” Pitas said. “We had to prove were we’re going to be financially viable, so we weren’t just going to leave this partially built monolith that somebody would have to deal with later.
“We’ve met the conditions. Now we own the land, so we’re going to start work.”
Under its current timeline, SHINE will spend 2019 and 2020 building the facility and installing equipment. That work will occur as SHINE tests the nuclear particle accelerators it will use at the plant at a demonstration facility just south of the plant site.
Pitas said the accelerator at the test site—a purple beam of ions that fires into a liquid target and creates neutrons—is now up and running.
The production plant itself, Pitas said, could be operable by late 2021, with commercial production taking off sometime in 2022.
Pitas said the “long pole in the tent” needed for the plant’s full startup is still in progress. SHINE still must gain federal operating approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Pitas said SHINE plans to submit its federal operating permit application sometime later this year. The commission’s approval process likely will take about two years, she said.
That would bring SHINE online a full decade after 2012—the year the city initially agreed to the TIF deal.
That deal generated plenty of optimism as the local economy struggled in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the loss of thousands of jobs after General Motors ended production in Janesville.
SHINE says its production of the bone- and tissue-illuminating radioisotope will stabilize the domestic supply of an important radioisotope used in thousands of medical tests daily. It also will privatize a process that for decades has been mostly a government-run effort involving the use of nuclear weapons-grade uranium in aging, overseas reactors.
SHINE has promised dozens of high-paying, high-tech jobs in Janesville, an idea that some economic development officials say could be a game-changer for a city known as a blue-collar manufacturing community.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy. The company had to attack its complex project on two fronts: gaining federal regulatory approval while simultaneously raising private capital for a first-of-its-kind production facility.
Some city council members have voiced concern about the city holding development land inactive based on a promise that SHINE could reach market with a new and unprecedented technology.
SHINE shoved aside doubt last fall when it landed a $150 million, private-financing agreement that company officials said validated their work and galvanized their ability to begin building the plant.
Later this month when construction starts, Pitas said the proof will start to take physical shape.
“People are starting to get really excited,” she said. “Finally, it’s going to be real. We’re going to start construction. There’s going to be physical, tangible evidence of all the hard work we’ve been putting in over the last several years.”