A major Missouri contributor in the fight against cancer will be on the job for 20 more years.
The University of Missouri Research Reactor Center, or MURR, has had its license renewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Over the past year, scientists at MURR produced and distributed more than 1,000 shipments of approximately 30 radioisotopes used in the treatment of cancer.
MURR Associate Director Les Foyto says the isotopes are delivered from the campus nuclear reactor to hospitals before reaching their final destination. “They are eventually put into a patient, to hopefully either kill the cancer or maybe increase their quality of life by allowing them to live longer in a healthier setting.”
Foyto notes there are 32 research reactors within the U.S., 25 of which are on college campuses, along with similar facilities throughout the world. He says none of the others operate close to the rigorous 24-hour schedule at the Columbia site, which produces isotopes for cancer treatment.
“There is no other research or test reactor, not only in this country but internationally, that runs on our schedule, just because we have to be reliable of sending those isotopes to these patients that really need them” said Foyto.
MURR operates 6 and a half days a week, 52-weeks a year. Foyto says maintenance is performed in the brief window when the reactor’s shut down.
The Atomic Energy Commission issued a construction permit for the University’s reactor in 1961. It opened in 1966. Foyto says the facility has been going through the re-licensing process for about 10 years to satisfy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It’s a very exhaustive, lots of questions from the NRC because they’re concerned about ‘OK this facility has operated 40 years, but what have you done to increase its reliability or increase its safety'”.
The NRC’s given MURR a 20 year operating license. MURR is a 10 megawatt facility, more powerful than a 6 megawatt reactor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Foyto claims it produces very little waste which is easily shipped away for storage.
In addition to manufacturing isotopes for cancer treatment, it’s used for research in fields such as archeology, epidemiology and zoology. Foyto notes the facility has been referred to as the A-to-Z reactor because of its range of functions.
In a statement regarding the reactor’s new licensing arrangement, MURR’s Executive Director, Ralph Butler said “Having just celebrated 50 years of cutting-edge research accomplishments, including collaborations that brought new radiopharmaceuticals to market, this milestone accomplishment of a new NRC operating license is great news for cancer patients, university researchers and economic development in the state of Missouri.”
The facility announced the state legislature is considering funding a much-needed $10 million building expansion.