The Fast Flux Test Facility in Washington State is the only nuclear research facility in the United States with the capability of producing isotopes. It is being shut down by the Department of Energy. This world-class nuclear reactor is about to be dismantled and when it is, it will take 20 years to re-activate it.
In the meantime, the United States will have no (0..zero...zilch) ability to produce nuclear isotopes, which are now used to produce medicines used in curing cancer and used in diagnostic machines and procedures.
Because of the limited life-expectancy of isotopes, importing them from the other existing facility that can produce them – located in France – is completely impractical, but we import 90% of what we use from France as it is. By the time they get here they are considerably weakened.
Although the FFTF performed flawlessly for a decade, in 1990 the Department of Energy ruled that it should be shut down because there was no defined “long-term mission” to justify the cost.
Without this facility, America is at the mercy of France. Remembering the eagerness France has demonstrated recently to protect the United States from its terrorist enemies, that would seem foolish. Also, since FFTF has not been producing isotopes and the US imports almost all from Europe, we had a serious problem after 9/11, when the supply was disrupted.
And look what else that facility was engaged in when it was shut down: completed in 1978, it tested materials and fuel components for fast breeder and fusion reactors under actual operating conditions; it was used to trans-mute high-level nuclear waste, making nuclear waste recyclable; it tested space nuclear fuel systems and produced 60 special isotopes for life-saving medical use and for industry.
Nuclear medicine does not exist without isotopes. Importing isotopes from France and Canada is expensive (and adds to rising health costs in America) and, as previously mentioned, the isotopes are weaker than those we could produce here. There are 36,000 diagnostic tests made daily that use medical isotopes.
The Fast Flux Test Facility was the first reactor to produce electric power from nuclear fission. When it was shut down, the FFTF was working on ways to bring down the costs of producing nuclear power (already the cheapest and most environmentally clean method of producing electricity) and on new safety procedures for reactors.
One of the newest and most dramatic discoveries in medicine involves a new drug, developed with isotopes, that is able to specifically target only cancer cells, leaving surrounding cells untouched. One of these, a medicine to combat cancer of the lymph nodes, is called Bexxar. It delivers radiation directly to tumor cells. Follicular lymphoma is incurable and affects 15,000 American adults a year. Patients can choose whether to use Bexxar or undergo chemotherapy and its grueling side effects.
You can help by signing the petition at: http://www.usa-cargo.info/petition/index.php
Please write your newspapers and legislators on state and national levels to ask that they support efforts to stop the dismantling of FFTF. At the very least, putting the health of Ameircan citizens at the mercy of other nations like France and Canada, should be reason enough to save the facility.
For more information:
The Importance of Medical Isotopes: http://www.medicalisotopes.org/
Nuclear Power for Space: http://www.space.com/news/nasa_nuclear_020205.html