Senate votes to save helium reserve

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 - Capitol Hill, Congress

In a 97-2 vote, the U.S. Senate has passed an amended version of the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (HR 527) that will allow a major helium reserve to continue production and potentially avoid disruptions in the use of MRIs, which depend on liquid helium as coolant.

Approved earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 527 secures the Federal Helium Reserve, an 88-year-old reservoir near Amarillo, Texas. Despite containing one-third of the world’s helium supply and accounting for approximately 40 percent of the helium used in the U.S., the program was slated to shut down on Oct. 7 if Congress hadn’t intervened.

Fears that the helium reserve wouldn’t be saved had spooked the market, sending the price of liquid helium to $25-$30 per liter in recent months, more than triple the cost from last year, according to a Reuters report.

In addition to cooling MRIs, helium has numerous applications in research, aerospace, defense and the manufacturing of consumer electronics.

Immediately following the vote, a number of professional association released statements applauding the decision to save the reserve, including the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance, the Semiconductor Industry Association and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.