Bipartisan bill addresses looming crisis in nuclear medicine; bill endorsed by medical, industry, and nuclear nonproliferation groups


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, announced the introduction of the American Medical Isotopes Production Act.  The bipartisan legislation will address the looming crisis in nuclear medicine by ensuring that a robust and reliable supply of the most critical medical isotopes are produced in the United States. Within weeks, the current shortage of the primary isotope used for medical procedures is expected to develop into a full- blown crisis. Without this critical isotope, thousands of patients a day will be affected.


Rep. Markey said: “The United States is facing a crisis in nuclear medicine. Because of serious technical problems in other countries, fifty thousand critical procedures performed in this country every day will soon vanish.  We simply cannot let this happen. We cannot afford to have American patients held hostage to old and faulty nuclear reactors in other countries.” 


“The American Medical Isotopes Production Act will ensure that Americans have access to these vital medical procedures by establishing a robust domestic production of molybdenum-99 for medical uses.”


Rep. Upton said, “The benefits of nuclear are many, from providing the catalyst for clean power to life saving medicine.  Problems abroad have exposed troublesome flaws here at home in nuclear medicine – it is clear that our nation must produce these life saving isotopes to ensure the public health is protected.”



The American Medical Isotopes Production Act has been endorsed by:

  • The Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CORAR)
  • The Society for Nuclear Medicine
  • The American Association of Physicists in Medicine
  • The American College of Radiology
  • The American College of Cardiology
  • The American Society of Nuclear Cardiology
  • The Health Physics Society
  • Lantheus Medical Imaging
  • Covidien
  • University of Missouri
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • Nonproliferation Policy Education Center


The medical isotope technetium-99m, a decay product of molybdenum-99, is used for 50,000 procedures a day in the United States, including for the detection and staging of cancer and the detection of heart disease.  However, the United States does not currently produce these critical isotopes, and is reliant upon foreign producers for a constant supply.


In May, the Canadian reactor which usually supplies 60% of US demand broke down, leaving American patients in danger and forcing American doctors to replace technecium-99m procedures with alternatives that are less effective, more costly, and potentially more dangerous to both patients and doctors.  Even worse, a major European reactor, the HFR Petten in the Netherlands, will shut down for necessary maintenance later this month, leaving the total global production capacity at approximately 10% of normal levels for one month.  The HFR Petten reactor has further maintenance outages scheduled for approximately 6 months in 2010, which will trigger an even longer period of extraordinarily low supply leading to rationing of medical procedures in the United States.


In addition, the bill will close a long-neglected loophole in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation law, by ending the export of highly enriched uranium for medical isotope production.  Highly enriched uranium is nuclear bomb material, and the national security of the United States demands that we never export it again.  However, medical isotopes can be made just as effectively with low enriched uranium.  This year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded in an authoritative study that there are “no technical reasons that adequate quantities cannot be produced” without the use of highly enriched uranium.


The American Medical Isotopes Production Act will provide resources and authority to the Department of Energy to bring domestic production of this critical isotope on-line as soon as possible.  The bill authorizes $163 million over five years, which fully funds the current Department of Energy cost projection for creating a robust domestic molybdenum-99 production capacity.  The Department of Energy is required to use this money to support private sector or research sector projects to establish molybdenum-99 production.  The bill also provides the Department of Energy with new authorities to assist in the development of fuels, targets, and processes for domestic molybdenum-99 production.  Additionally, the bill will responsibly end the export of U.S. highly enriched uranium in 7-10 years, providing sufficient time for less dangerous technologies to be substituted.



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