Medical isotope bill goes to full House vote

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Image source: Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA)

The American Medical Isotopes Production Act (HR 3276) was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee on Oct. 21. The new legislation will help to fund projects for producing the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) within the U.S., in order to ensure a consistent supply for American patients.

In addition to generating Mo-99 domestically, the bill also requires the isotope to be produced without the use of highly-enriched uranium. Subsequently, the export of highly-enriched uranium from the U.S. for production of isotopes will be outlawed seven years after the bill is passed.  Within the past year, it has been determined by the National Academy of Sciences that medical isotopes can be made safely, and in high enough quantity with low-enriched uranium.

The Department of Energy will be allotted $163 million toward the effort over the course of five years, and will be required to issue annual reports on the progress of Mo-99 production for the first six years after the bill becomes law. The reports are to ensure steps are being actively taken to utilize new technologies in creating Mo-99, rather than using isotopes known for nuclear weapon production.

Amendments made to the bill included byproducts of the Mo-99 production, iodine-131 and xenon-133, also being utilized. These isotopes should be made available for medical use, as they are coproduced in large quantities alongside Mo-99.

The legislation was proposed by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the subcommittee on energy and the environment, due to the current global shortage of medical isotopes. Mo-99 is used in approximately 16 million medical procedures and tests annually in the U.S., and is most commonly used in detected and staging cancer and heart disease.  As of late, all medical isotopes used by the U.S. are produced outside of the country. 

“The Committee has taken a major step towards insuring an uninterrupted supply of critical medical isotopes,” said Markey, in a statement lauding passage the committee's action. “Every day, medical isotopes fuel thousands of potentially life-saving medical tests across the country. We owe it to doctors and patients to ensure the supply never runs out. We cannot afford to have American patients held hostage to old and faulty nuclear reactors in other countries for these materials.”