Congress averts helium shortage


The U.S. Congress managed to come together Thursday to pass legislation that prevents a market shortage of helium.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill approved earlier by the House of Representatives that cancels closure of the national helium reserve. The closure had been planned for Oct. 7, but manufacturers and the medical industry had expressed concern that the move would hurt them.

The Federal Helium Program, operated under the Bureau of Land Management, supplies 42 percent of the gas used in the United States and 35 percent of global demand. Helium has been produced and stored by the government since World War I. Extracted from natural gas, helium is essential for the aerospace industry, welding, manufacturing fiber-optics and computer chips, and in several medical fields, including magnetic resonance imaging.