Congressman to introduce bill for LEU use in medical isotope production

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Energy and Commerce Chairman Waxman, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Edward J. Markey. Image Source:

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, plans to introduce legislation that would help create a domestic market that produces medical isotopes using low enriched uranium (LEU), moving the industry away from its dependence on highly enriched uranium (HEU).

Markey announced his plan to introduce the legislation in the wake of a congressionally mandated (PL 109-58) National Academies draft report released in January that said transitioning from HEU to LEU is economically feasible, according to Congressional Quarterly ( CQ).

"I have long been convinced that the United States, and indeed the world, can break its dependence on dangerous highly enriched uranium for the production of critical medical supplies," Markey said in a statement. "This exhaustive study provides Congress with an authoritative analysis of these issues, [and] proves we can switch to low enriched uranium at negligible cost to both producers and patients."

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War's draft policy on medical isotope production calls for the industry "to expedite universal conversion of isotope production targets and reactor fuel from HEU to LEU as soon as possible," reported CQ. The group also has suggested that governments that supply HEU--the United States, France, Russia, South Africa and Great Britain--provide incentives for radiopharmaceutical producers to convert to LEU, and suggests including a cut-off date in the near future and a "substantial and progressive escalation in the price charged for HEU."

The medical isotope community is generally on board with the plan, but some have expressed concerns that any changeover from HEU to LEU could hurt supply and therefore drive up costs for producers and consumers and, eventually, patients, CQ reported. The Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) has noted "significant regulatory, financial, environmental and patient issues linked with a conversion to LEU that must be taken into consideration before making any large-scale changes."