The University of Oregon recently joined higher education institutions, science organizations, and business community members in signing a September 10 letter urging congressional leadership to protect the national supply of helium through the Federal Helium Reserve. The letter notes that helium is an essential component of a large number of manufacturing processes and a key material for the scientific research community.
Under existing law, the Federal Helium Reserve – a federal facility that provides approximately 50 percent of domestic supplies of helium – will no longer be authorized to sell helium to private entities, including universities, after October 7. If the reserve shuts down, production would cease on about 30 percent of the world’s helium supply — causing further supply disruptions and higher prices.
At the University of Oregon, liquid helium is used to service instrumentation critical to $15-20 million of current and pending federal research funding, representing more than a dozen UO research labs (with over 150 users), the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, UO chemistry teaching programs, and the UO Graduate Internship Program. It is vital to the operation of the university’s CAMCOR Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility that serves close to 20 local and region commercial companies in addition to university researchers. Helium is also used in the cooling of the UO’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology.
The letter calls on Congress to act immediately to avert a shortage of this commodity. The House has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to continue the supply of helium (H.R. 527), and the Senate is considering its own helium bill (S.783).