CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 3276 is expected to be considered under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) on July 21, 2009. H.R. 3276 was approved by the Committee on Energy and Commerce by voice vote on October 21, 2009.
H.R. 3276 would authorize funding to support projects to produce molybdenum-99, a radioactive isotope used in certain medical procedures.
Specifically, the bill authorizes $163 million in Fiscal Years 2011 through 2014 for the Department of Energy to establish a program to evaluate and support projects for production in the U.S., without the use of highly enriched uranium, of significant quantities of molybdenum-99 for medical uses. The legislation also directs the Department to make low enriched uranium (LEU) available through lease contracts to producers of molybdenum-99. The contracts would allow the Department to retain financial responsibility for radioactive waste generated by the irradiation, processing, or purification of LEU.
Molybdenum-99 is an isotope whose decay product is used in approximately two-thirds of all diagnostic medical isotope procedures in the U.S., or about 16 million medical procedures annually. It is used for the detection of cancer, heart disease, and thyroid disease, investigating the operation of the brain and kidney, imaging stress fractures, and tracking cancer stages. The isotope cannot be easily stockpiled, so its production must be scheduled to meet the projected demand and any interruption of the supply chain from production, to processing, packaging, distribution, and use can disrupt patient care.
There are no facilities in the U.S. that are dedicated to the production of the isotopes for medical uses, so all supplies are imported from foreign facilities. Most reactors which produce molybdenum-99 utilize highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can also be used in the construction of nuclear weapons. This January, the National Academy of Sciences encouraged producers to convert from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU), and found that there are "no technical reasons that adequate quantities cannot be produced from LEU targets in the future." The National Research Universal reactor in Canada, which is responsible for producing over half of U.S. demand for the isotope, was shut down unexpectedly earlier this year. As a result there is a shortage of molybdenum-99, and medical procedures requiring the isotope are being delayed.
Assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing the bill would cost $130 million over five years.