House Republicans press Energy Department on medical isotopes

Two top Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee want to know what the Department of Energy is doing with rare isotopes that can be used in leukemia and cancer research.

The DOE stopped extracting thorium from its Uranium-233 inventory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory after a congressional conference report raised cost and safety concerns in 2005. But thorium in turn can be used to create two isotopes — actinium-225 and bismuth-213 — that are used by hospitals and universities for cancer research.

Two years ago, the DOE's inspector general raised concerns with the department's decision.

"We share the concern of the DOE IG that, in proceeding to dispose of the U-233 inventory without thorium extraction, the Department may be disposing of a national resource that is irreplaceable," ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) and ranking oversight subpanel member Michael Burgess (R-Texas) wrote in a letter sent Monday to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The two lawmakers request a briefing on the status of the department's excess U-233. They also ask whether new concerns with the disposal effort warrant reconsidering the decision to end thorium extraction.