Bill will solve medical isotope supply crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative 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, today hailed House passage of the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009.The bipartisan legislation addresses the ongoing crisis in nuclear medicine by ensuring that a robust and reliable supply of the most critical medical isotopes is produced in the United States. The Markey-Upton bill will ensure that these isotopes, and the life-saving procedures they enable, will once again be fully available to U.S. patients.

In addition, the bill will lead more reactors around the world to convert away from nuclear weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU).  The importance of converting reactors at home and abroad away from the use of HEU has been recently highlighted by the negotiations over providing fuel for Iran’s medical isotope reactor, which was originally fueled with HEU.

Today the House has approved a landmark measure to ensure there will be an uninterrupted supply of critical medical isotopes,” said Markey. “Every day, medical isotopes fuel tens of thousands of potentially life-saving medical tests across the country. We owe it to doctors and patients to ensure the supply never runs out. I hope the Senate will act quickly so that we can get this bill to the president’s desk and get the production of these critical isotopes back up and running.”

We have a crisis of epic proportions on our hands as shortages of medical isotopes abroad have exposed unsettling vulnerabilities here at home in nuclear medicine,” said Upton.  “The House has answered the call to ensure the tens of thousands of Americans who seek diagnosis and treatment every day for afflictions such as heart disease and cancer promptly receive the care they need.  With our most reliable supply of medical isotopes currently out of commission, the clock is ticking for the Senate to act.  The well-being of countless folks hangs in the balance.”

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
Astellas Pharma US
GE Hitachi
Babcock and Wilcox
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 for approximately 6 months in 2010, which will trigger a 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.  Fortunately, 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 7-11 years, providing sufficient time for less dangerous technologies to be substituted.



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