Calling for the Establishment of Sustainable and Secure Canadian Helium Supply
OTTAWA, ON, June 2, 2023 /CNW/ - Global liquid helium supply disruptions are posing critical challenges in Canada, affecting the provision of essential medical services and detrimental to Canadian scientific research and industry. The Canadian Helium Users Group (CHUG), together with the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) and the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) are joining forces to advocate for the establishment of a sustainable and secure helium supply in Canada.
The impact of the helium supply shortage is particularly felt in healthcare. More than 2.3 million magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations were conducted in Canada using 378 MRI scanners in 2019-2020. All of these scanners require helium to function, and without adequate supply must be shut down. For every machine that needs to be shut down, 240-350 examinations would be lost over the course of a two-week period, at a time when the system is already experiencing record backlogs and wait times. Furthermore, emergent patients would not have access to MR imaging, which would delay detection of disease and increase the proportion of patients presenting with more advanced disease.
"Without an adequate supply of liquid helium, many MRI magnets located in Canadian healthcare institutions are at risk of a "quench", which effectively shuts them down. This would lead to delays in early disease detection and diagnosis, added healthcare costs and ultimately compromise patient outcomes. Canada needs to invest in a sustainable national helium supply chain." – Dr. Ania Kielar, President, CAR
"We should not be waiting for the time when MRI scanners are shut down due to a shortage of helium. Acting now, to implement the recommendations of this group will ensure the continuity of MRI imaging, so critical to the care of millions of people in Canada every year." – Megan Brydon, President, CAMRT.
Helium is undeniably critical for life science, chemistry, engineering, and physics research programs. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy used in these fields is also experiencing negative impacts from the helium supply shortage. A recent survey conducted by the CHUG found that 72% of facilities had difficulty procuring liquid helium within the last nine months. In addition, many labs have been subjected to unscheduled price increases, ranging from 25% to as much as 400%.
"Canada's contribution to the global helium supply is only 1%, leaving Canadian consumers vulnerable to supply disruptions. Canada can establish a 'Made in Canada' helium production and distribution solution by investing in large-scale purification and liquefaction facilities. This would ensure a secure supply for healthcare, research, and industry. It would position Canada as a global leader in helium utilization, foster job creation, and technological innovation." said Bob Berno, NMR Facility Manager at McMaster University and CHUG Representative
Helium is a precious, non-renewable resource, and establishing a national supply chain will mitigate the risk of ongoing and future global supply chain challenges and price fluctuations. Recently in Saskatchewan, several new sites have been developed for helium capture. North American Helium has built a system to purify the gas, then shipped it to the US for liquefication and distribution into the global market. However, Canada currently does not have an industrial-sized liquefication hub. The Government of Saskatchewan's "Helium Action Plan: From Exploration to Exports" outlines an innovative approach to exploring, producing, processing, and exporting helium. Their goal is to have Saskatchewan produce 10% of the world's helium by 2030, which, if achieved, would meet Canadian helium needs and provide a surplus for export.
Today, the CHUG, CAMRT, and CAR Helium working group released its position entitled Establishing a Sustainable and Secure Canadian Helium Supply. The consensus position of the three groups provides background on helium supply, as well as recent supply challenges and offers the following recommendations:
- That the federal government, working in collaboration with provincial governments and industry, expedites the development of a large-scale Canadian helium purification and liquefaction facility to complete a sustainable national helium supply chain.
- That the federal government creates a funding mechanism so that laboratories and institutions can access funds to install helium recovery systems and create and/or optimize existing local reliquefication systems to promote environmental sustainability.
- That the federal government adds helium to the list of urgent mineral shortages to be addressed within the federal budget.
We can safeguard critical healthcare services, drive innovation, and reduce our environmental impact by addressing the helium supply challenges with a 'Made in Canada' solution. CHUG, CAMRT, and CAR urge the federal government, industry stakeholders, and regulatory bodies to prioritize establishing a sustainable and secure Canadian helium supply.
SOURCE Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
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