First Light Fusion working on medical isotopes

3 August 2023

First Light Fusion is working with Spanish engineering firm IDOM UK Nuclear Services on a reactor chamber design that includes options for medical isotope manufacture. The company says this can be achieved with no compromise to electricity production.

UK-based First Light is aiming to identify potential pharmaceutical applications of its unique projectile fusion reactor process that uses inertial confinement. This is the same method used by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to demonstrate energy gain from fusion late last year.

This new project looking into medical isotopes production represents an additional revenue opportunity as part of its plans to build a pilot fusion energy power plant. First Light notes that four fifths of the energy released by fusion is in the form of high-energy neutrons and capturing the neutrons is essential for power production. The neutrons are also used to produce tritium through a reaction with lithium and this new project adds a third aspect, where the neutrons are used to produce radionuclides for pharmaceutical applications. 

Research has found that the current reactor design can generate a series of different radionuclides matching the production of other nuclear reactors like HFR in Petten, OPAL in Australia, or the different cyclotron facilities. 

First Light says its reactor design allows for the generation of many types of radionuclides at the same time and easy extraction of the target materials. This comes with little to no compromise on the ability to produce tritium or to extract heat and produce electricity.

Nick Hawker, co-founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, said: “This is an incredible and unplanned development for our projectile fusion technology. Our focus remains very much on building Machine 4, our gain demonstrator, while developing a first of a kind fusion reactor. But when we identified the potential not only to produce, but also harvest these much-needed medical isotopes which are having an increasing impact on the diagnosis and treatment of such serious illnesses as cancer and heart disease, it was incumbent on us to explore the opportunity. Importantly this can be realised with no compromise to the reactor’s ability to produce electricity, it is a purely additive opportunity. Our early research working with IDOM has produced overwhelming positive results and we look forward to building on these findings into our continued plant development plans.”

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