Party was in Veendam last month, all over Groningen. SHINE announced that the choice of location for a European plant for medical isotopes had fallen on the park city. A choice it is based on rock-hard checkmarks on the list of requirements combined with a dash of emotion.
For the first quarter century of his life, Harrie Buurlage, Vice President of Global Sales and Europe SHINE, lived in the City and the Ommeland. Born in Groningen, tasted the immediate region, studied at the Rijksuniversiteit he had, before starting his international career. That brought him the last years in the US. But now he is back in the North, back on stee. "It feels like home.
Buurlage will spend the next few years ensuring that the plant in Veendam gets off the ground. 'I am looking forward to that. It has a distinct advantage that I know this region. We are building our first factory in Wisconsin and that state has great similarities with the Northern Netherlands when it comes to values and culture. Not too much fuss, enough pride and sobriety, that's how I would characterize the people. That suits me perfectly as a person, but also the company SHINE.
Logical, then, that the ambitious American isotope producer chose "us," you might say. Still, a lot of water flowed through the Rhine before champagne could be toasted. SHINE had initially selected one hundred locations in Europe. Of these, a longlist of fifty quickly emerged, then shortlists of five, three and finally two. 'Of course, we had quite a wish list,' Buurage explains. 'That involved obvious things like a market analysis, the presence of high-quality personnel, a competent government, the infra-structure, things like that. In the final shuffle, all that is in place and it comes down to soft components, such as culture. The Netherlands was left as the best country, especially when the government assured us that we would not suffer from unfair competition. Without wanting to slime, or detract from other regions: Groningen simply gave the warmest feeling.'
Passion is a word that is appropriate here. On behalf of NOM, Gerard Lenstra was involved in the arrival of SHINE. 'Together we did everything we could to be a good host. I think the presence of the Queen's Commissioner René Paas at the presentation of our bid book says a lot in that regard. We wanted to show in every possible way that we see great opportunities for cooperation and that the arrival of the company is good for SHINE as well as for the region. That is why we bit into it like a terrier and did our stinking best.
Level playing field
Buurlage agrees. 'The province, NOM, Veendam, B&W and the city council, the deputies, they all spoke passionately about their region. It immediately gave us the feeling that we can set up a long-term cooperation here without many insurmountable points of contention. Alderman Henk-Jan Schmaal also spoke very enthusiastically about the employment that SHINE will bring in the future and its importance. That all helps.
What also helped was the role that NOM and the northern authorities played in convincing "The Hague" regarding the desired level playing field. Buurlage: "That was actually one of the toughest parts of the journey that brought us to Veendam. We wanted assurance that the Pallas research reactor in Petten would not be given an unbalanced one-sided advantage. We are not at all against competition, provided it is fair.'
Without wishing to slime, or detract from other regions: Groningen simply gave the warmest feeling.
Harrie Buurlage, SHINE
SHINE makes medical isotopes in a revolutionary way, very different from what happens in Petten. Without a nuclear power plant, without fuel rods containing uranium. The method has proven itself and is now being put into practice on a large scale, first in the U.S., then in Veendam. 'Europe is an important market for us. To serve it well, we have to open a production site here. Transport has become a risk factor in the security of supply, as we saw even more clearly last year. In addition, the radioactive elements we produce are slowly losing their potency. In short, proximity is essential.'
The proximity of highways to Germany, the knowledge at the UMCG and the university, the blossoming of (bio)tech in the area, these are all reasons to choose Veendam. Just like the presence of Eelde airport, for that matter. Gerard Lenstra drove several rounds through the region with Harrie Buurlage in recent months to show him what the North has to offer. Several possible locations were reviewed, and Veendam emerged as the winner.
Of course, NOM also had its questions. A factory in radioactive elements, do you want something like that in your region? Lenstra: 'At first I knew very little about the technology, but once I had looked into it, I saw why we had to work hard to get the company here. This is technology of the future. Cleaner, cheaper, more efficient, safer. It has nothing to do with a nuclear reactor with dangers like meltdown. It just has an on/off switch on it. We foresee SHINE having a bright future and a considerable appeal to other companies.'
Circle is round
SHINE originated in 2010 as a spin-off from the University of Madison, Wisconsin. There, it was proved in theory that commonly used medical isotopes could be made using a particle accelerator. In practice, that later proved to be true and now ambitious plants are being built. Buurlage: "Our technique is much safer because there is no burning of uranium rods. We keep only a fraction of nuclear waste and our production processes are significantly cheaper. For this reason, we believe we will eventually control most of the world market in medical isotopes.'
The plant in Veendam will contribute to that in 2025 at the earliest. From there, customers will be supplied throughout Europe and Asia. 'We supply the radioactive elements that are processed into nuclear medicines, with which many organ functions can be examined and also increasingly treat cancer diseases.' Buurlage will be busy with construction and preparation for the next four or five years. 'After that? I'm 59 now, we'll just have to see how my health is by then and how the world is. For now, I do like living in the North again, close to my family. I kind of feel like things have come full circle. The Netherlands invested in me during my studies in Applied Physics. It is wonderful to be able to give something back with the arrival of SHINE.'
The process developed by SHINE to produce medical isotopes is groundbreaking and well-protected. In layman's terms, it works something like this: in an accelerator, special hydrogen particles collide with each other so hard that they fuse together. This releases a neutron, the same radioactive particle that is extracted in a nuclear reactor. These neutrons are necessary for the production of many medical isotopes.
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