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SHINE Medical Technologies has been getting a lot of attention lately for a $20 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy aimed at making a critical but scarce isotope used to screen for heart disease and cancer.

Now, the company that spun out SHINE two years ago is in the spotlight itself, and is working on solutions for homeland security.

Phoenix Nuclear Labs has raised $590,500, led by Madison angel investment group Wisconsin Investment Partners and Fred Mancheski, a Wisconsin native and former chairman of Echlin, an auto parts manufacturer.

Phoenix moved from Middleton to larger space in Monona earlier this month so it can press ahead with its own products and add a couple of engineers to its staff of twelve.

“Our mission is to build devices that make a lot of neutrons,” Phoenix president Ross Radel said.

One prototype Phoenix is developing is for the Army. It would test artillery shells to be sure they don’t have any bubbles or cracks that could make them explode early, Radel said. Right now, Xrays are used for those tests, but Radel said neutrons are more effective. “They can penetrate through metal like it’s hardly even there,” he said. “They can get a clear image of what the explosive itself looks like.”

Radel said the technology can also be used for other national security-related purposes, such as detecting explosives or radioactive materials like uranium and plutonium.

At the same time, Phoenix is developing a neutron device for SHINE, which plans to manufacture molybdenum-99. When molybdenum-99 decays, it produces technetium-99m, used in thousands of medical imaging procedures every day.

In the next five years, Phoenix hopes to develop a machine that can be used in hospitals to make other types of medical isotopes and “go straight from our machine to the patient,” Radel said.

Leading Phoenix is a switch for Radel, a Spring Green native with a Ph.D in nuclear engineering from the UW-Madison. Before he came back to Wisconsin 18 months ago, Radel, 31, spent five years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, helping to design nuclear reactors – for use on the moon.

You may think of that as a pie-in-the-sky project, but Radel said it would be a necessity for the permanent base on the moon that former Pres. George W. Bush envisioned. The moon is dark for two weeks straight and then light for two weeks straight so it would need electricity, Radel said.

“That was also a fun job but a longer term kind of project,” he said. And even longer now, since the Obama administration shelved the whole project.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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