September 9, 2009: MARKEY OPENING STATEMENT AT HEARING ON MEDICAL ISOTOPES CRISIS


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, made the following opening statement at a hearing H.R. 3276, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009.  Rep. Markey introduced the bill along with Subcommittee Ranking Member Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to assist the private sector in establishing a robust domestic supply of critical medical isotopes as quickly as possible.

Every day in the United States, thousands of people go to the hospital to be treated for life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and cancer,” said Markey. “But right now, due to the breakdown of a nuclear reactor in Canada, many of these critical procedures are being delayed and compromised.

 

"The United States is facing a crisis in nuclear medicine.  We face a severe shortage of a crucial radioactive isotope molybdenum-99, which is required for nearly 50,000 medical procedures each day, usually to produce a detailed image, such as a cancer or bone scan.  The shortage of this isotope, which usually costs only $10 of a multi-thousand dollar procedure, is threatening the healthcare of millions of Americans.

 

"Worst of all, the United States does not currently produce any of the isotope in question domestically.  Instead, we are entirely dependent on a handful of foreign nuclear reactors, most of which are several decades old, some of which are literally falling apart, and which rely upon weapons-usable highly enriched uranium for their operation.

 

"In May, the 51-year old Canadian NRU reactor broke down.  It is not yet clear whether the reactor will ever operate again. 

 

"In mid-July, the 47-year old HFR reactor in The Netherlands was taken off-line for maintenance for one month.

 

"Together, these two reactors usually produce our ENTIRE isotope supply.  While the United States was able to secure a small supply during this time from other reactors, Americans’ health care suffered as a result.

 

"A recent survey of the nuclear medicine community provided sobering results: 80% said their practice was impacted by the shortage.  80% said they had postponed procedures, 47% said they had cancelled procedures, and 57% said they had substituted alternative procedures.

"Unfortunately, in most cases, the alternative procedures are more invasive, less effective, more costly, and pose greater radiation risk to both patients and technicians.  We don’t need alternatives; we need the state-of-the-art to be fully available again.

 

"Medical care in this country for cancer, heart disease, and bone scans, simply cannot be held hostage to the maintenance schedules of 50-year old nuclear reactors in Europe.  It is absolutely vital that we act to bring a robust, domestic supply of these critical medical isotopes on-line as soon as possible. 

 

"In order to address the crisis in nuclear medicine, I introduced, with my good friend Congressman Upton, H.R. 3276, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009.  The bill will provide the Department of Energy new authorities and resources to assist the private sector in establishing, as rapidly as possible, a robust medical isotope production capacity here in the United States. 

 

"In addition, the bill will end the export of bomb-usable highly enriched uranium for medical isotope production in seven to ten years, as recommended in a recent National Academy of Sciences report that also said there was no reason that these isotopes couldn’t be made using low enriched uranium.  In fact, both Argentina and Australia have started producing medical isotopes with low enriched uranium.  Highly enriched uranium is nuclear bomb material, and the national security of the United States demands that we never export it again. 

 

The Markey-Upton bill is a bipartisan bill. It has been endorsed by: 

  • The Society for Nuclear Medicine
  • The American College of Radiology
  • The American Society for Radiation Oncology
  • The American College of Cardiology
  • The American Society of Nuclear Cardiology
  • The American Association of Physicists in Medicine
  • The Health Physics Society
  • The Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CORAR)
  • Lantheus Medical Imaging, Inc.
  • Covidien
  • Babcock and Wilcox
  • GE Hitachi
  • The Academy of Molecular Imaging
  • The Institute for Molecular Technologies
  • University of Missouri
  • The Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • and the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center

"I would like to ask for unanimous consent that the letters of endorsement from these organizations be entered into the Record.  I would also like to ask unanimous consent that Members will have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and to insert extraneous material in the record.

 

"Today’s hearing will allow the Subcommittee to explore this important issue, and to hear the panel’s views on H.R. 3276.  I hope that we can all work together to address this crucial problem facing American hospitals and patients.”

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