Janesville company SHINE Medical Technologies is dropping the word “medical” from its name to reflect the company’s mission to embrace nuclear fusion technology, not just nuclear medicine.
SHINE Technologies is still moving forward with its goal to launch a medical radioisotope production facility in Janesville sometime in 2022.
SHINE CEO Greg Piefer said his company aims to one day use the technology that drives its nuclear particle accelerators to do more than produce medical molybdenum 99 and cancer medicines.
Under the corporate name change announced this week, Piefer said SHINE Technologies will leverage itself as an innovator in private-sector nuclear fusion to become a clean nuclear fusion energy producer.
Until this year, SHINE has rarely publicly discussed another of its long-term goals to make clean energy using nuclear fusion. SHINE has spent a decade in intense federal regulatory and fundraising phases to build out and scale up a nuclear medical radioisotope production facility in Janesville.
While SHINE expects to launch commercial production of bone-illuminating moly-99 and cancer treatment drugs sometime in late 2022 or early 2023, the most optimistic predictions for nuclear fusion to start producing affordable energy is at least a decade away.
Piefer said large tech investors are starting to bet on the integrity of SHINE’s overall nuclear technology, pointing to a recent $150 million private financing deal SHINE landed with a team of financiers that includes a division of Koch Industries and an early Tesla backer, Baillie Gifford.
Piefer said nuclear medicine production—an endeavor that has taken the company a decade to achieve—is just one of the company’s planned phases. The name change to SHINE Technologies symbolizes that the company is now moving toward its longer-term, overarching goals.
“Until now, we really have focused on health care to make our story a little bit easier to understand. But sort of the master idea is having these (four) phases that build on each other and move the company forward,” Piefer said.
“We’ve finally accomplished enough where people want to hear more about what we’re going to be doing long term,” he said. “There’s a lot of challenges the world faces, and people want to invest in good companies that are ready to tackle some of those challenges.”
SHINE, alongside its competitor, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes in Beloit, has put Rock County on the map as a hub for nuclear medicine production. It comes at a time when the domestic and global medical markets are experiencing ongoing shortages and bottlenecks for medical radioisotopes. Aging government nuclear reactors are still used to make the bulk of the medicines.
SHINE’s former sister company, Phoenix, also founded by Piefer, for years used nuclear fusion technology to conduct nuclear imaging of dense materials used in the aerospace and defense industries. SHINE and Phoenix merged earlier this year.
SHINE in May announced it intends to build a twin isotope production facility in Europe. Meanwhile, it has launched a partnership with a government-run nuclear reactor in Missouri—a move that is helping SHINE jump-start producing cancer drugs while it continues to build out the accelerator modules it plans to use to produce nuclear drugs in Janesville.
The next step for SHINE, Piefer said, will be to explore the use of its fusion technology to recycle and neutralize nuclear waste. One of the drawbacks for nuclear power production that has created major political and scientific hurdles is the resulting radioactive waste that can linger for millions of years.
SHINE is setting its sights now on technology that could recycle some radioactive waste and shorten the nuclear half-life on the remaining waste. Piefer describes the work as a bridge between work SHINE now is pursuing in nuclear medicines and the company’s goal to produce clean fusion energy.
While SHINE still intends to produce medical isotopes in Janesville, Piefer said SHINE has not decided whether its Janesville campus would ever house commercialized nuclear waste recycling. He said the location of recycling facilities might hinge on demand in countries or regions of countries that now store the biggest inventories of radioactive waste—mostly from nuclear fission reactions used to produce large-scale, nuclear power.
“This will have to be a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and the various (energy) utilities. So in terms of where we’d site the first (recycling) facility, it’s going to depend on who wants to engage with us. I do imagine there will be many facilities, globally, to take on this problem at scale,” Piefer said.