Congress prods DOE to act on NBTF

October 21, 1992

Creation of a domestic source for radioisotopes used in nuclearmedicine drew one step closer to reality last month. In an appropriationsbill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) was directed to fund a

Creation of a domestic source for radioisotopes used in nuclearmedicine drew one step closer to reality last month. In an appropriationsbill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) was directed to fund a project definitionstudy for a National Biomedical Tracer Facility (NBTF).

The NBTF has long been on the wish list of nuclear medicinespecialists concerned about U.S. dependence on imported radioisotopes.There are no commercial suppliers of radioisotopes in the U.S.,and the two existing radioisotope facilities run by the federalgovernment produce an erratic supply. As a result, the U.S. importsmost of its radioisotopes, according to Kristen Morris, directorof government relations for the Society of Nuclear Medicine andthe American College of Nuclear Physicians.

Reliance on foreign radioisotopes has put U.S. nuclear medicinein a precarious position. The vulnerability of that position washighlighted in July, when a labor dispute at a Canadian nuclearreactor threatened to cut off almost all of the world's supplyof molybdenum-99, the raw material for technetium 99m (SCAN 8/12/92).

Establishment of the NBTF would reduce the potential for criseslike the molybdenum scare, according to Morris. It would alsoput the U.S. on equal footing with other countries that have establisheddedicated facilities for isotope production.

Despite the need for a domestic radioisotope source, the DOEhas done little to support the effort to create the NBTF, Morrissaid. DOE representatives were blasted for the agency's lack ofaction on the radioisotope issue at a hearing in the House ofRepresentatives in August. That hearing, as well as concerns aboutthe molybdenum crisis, provided the impetus behind Congress' NBTFresolution.

In addition to ordering the DOE to provide funds for the projectdefinition phase of the NBTF, Congress also required the agencyto report on its progress by Feb. 1, 1993.

Congress' action should be what finally gets the DOE jump-startedon the NBTF, Morris said.

"This was what we were waiting to get, to get the DOEmobilized," said Morris. "We have a mandate and a definitedeadline. We've got the momentum to carry this through."