Senate acts to prevent helium shortage

The U.S. Senate, by a vote of 97-2, passed the High Technology Jobs Preservation Act Sept. 18, which will serve to prevent the imminent closure of the federal helium reserve.

With this bill, the federal helium reserve will be phased out of existence over the course of the next few years and the government will be required to auction off its helium reserve at market price, therefore averting an impending nationwide helium supply crisis. Helium--a critical component used in the creation and operation of MRI machines--helps to keep such machines cool.

According to an announcement by the American College of Radiology, the Senate's action came after ACR--in addition to 100 medical imaging, research, manufacturing, telecommunications and educational organizations--sent a letter to congress urging the legislation's passage.

Now, the legislation must go back to the House of Representatives, hopefully for action before a mandated Oct. 7, shutdown of the helium reserve. According to ACR, differences remain between the Senate and House on how to dispense funds generated by the sale of the helium; House leaders want to see the money used to reduce the deficit, while Senate democrats want to see the money go toward existing energy and environmental programs.

The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) issued a statement lauding Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for their roles in getting the legislation passed.

"MITA applauds Senators Wyden and Murkowski and the entire Energy and Natural Resources Committee for their leadership in securing a nearly-unanimous vote on legislation to prevent the closure of the Federal Helium Reserve," Gail Rodriguez, executive director of MITA, said. "We urge the House to vote immediately to avert the helium cliff and ensure the well-being of countless patients who hang in the balance."

To learn more:
- see the announcement by the American College of Radiology
- read the statement from MITA
- here's the legislation