December 18, 2020

Congressman Neguse Introduces Bill to Protect the Federal Liquid Helium Reserve, By Request of Colorado Scientists

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, announced the introduction of new legislation, by request of scientists in the 2nd Congressional district, that would protect the Federal Liquid Helium Reserve and ensure that federal labs are not further financially burdened by the increased cost of helium.

Since 1925, Congress has maintained an underground helium storage facility outside Amarillo, Texas, which satisfies 40% of domestic helium demand. However, in 2013, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced and passed into law the Helium Stewardship Act, which established that the federal government must sell and/or dispose of all assets of the Federal Helium Reserve by Sept 30, 2021, with the intent that private industry oversee the helium reserve and increase production once the reserve was closed. Given that helium is already extraordinarily expensive for scientists to purchase, this would exasperate the financial burden on federal labs.

The Securing Helium for Science Act, introduced by Congressman Neguse, would put a “condition of sale” on whichever private entity purchases the Federal Helium Reserve, ensuring that academic users continue to be able to purchase discounted helium for the next 8 years, while the National Science Foundation ramps up a program to provide helium recyclers.

“Liquid helium is crucial to American research and innovation, and utilized by many federal scientists at research labs across the 2nd Congressional District. Many who are concerned that U.S. helium shortages and the breakdown of the Federal Helium Reserve will add increased financial burden and detrimental impact on scientific research,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “Our bill, Securing Helium for Science Act, will ensure that federal scientists in Colorado and across the country are able to access affordable helium by keeping the Federal Helium Reserve open past 2021 and continuing to offer discounted rates for federal researchers.”

“I wholeheartedly thank U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO-2nd) for his support of this important bill that will ensure that scientists can continue to conduct critical research that has implications for a broad range of fundamental and applied technologies, including NMR investigations, MRI scanners and quantum computing.” said Joseph DiVerdi, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Colorado State University.

“APS commends U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO-2nd) for introducing this critical piece of legislation that will help ensure the scientific community has reliable access to helium for the next several years,” said Phil Bucksbaum, President of the American Physical Society, Stanford University. “A reliable helium supply strengthens our nation’s scientific enterprise and enables discoveries that will lay the foundation for a robust economy going forward.”

Helium serves as an essential element to a wide variety of technologies used by scientists and engineers, including quantum computing and MRI scanners in hospitals. The U.S. scientific enterprise depends on a steady, reliable and affordable supply of helium. There is no replacement for helium. It is unique among all elements for its ability to reach ultra-cold temperatures, making it one of our nation’s most-valuable, non-renewable and irreplaceable natural resources. The average price of liquid helium for academic researchers has increased by nearly 25% from 2018 to 2019 (this is on top of years of similar increases); some researchers’ prices have more than tripled.