"The world is experiencing a shortage of helium-3, a rare isotope of helium with applications in homeland security, national security, medicine, industry, and science. For many years the supply of helium-3 from the nuclear weapons program outstripped the demand for helium-3. The demand was small enough that a substantial stockpile of helium-3 accumulated. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government began deploying neutron detectors at the U.S. border to help secure the nation against smuggled nuclear and radiological material. The deployment of this equipment created new demand for helium-3. Use of the polarized helium-3 medical imaging technique also increased. As a result, the size of the stockpile shrank. […] The committee developed a rationing scheme for allocating the available helium-3. Some federal and private-sector users received no allocation or an amount less than they had planned. Several federal agencies are investigating alternative sources of helium-3 and ways to reduce the demand. Congressional attention appears predominantly focused on oversight of the current situation, how it arose, and the processes currently in place for addressing it. In future hearings and legislation, Congress may address additional issues, such as increasing the helium-3 supply, reducing demand, or changing how supply is allocated. This report discusses the nature of the shortage; federal actions undertaken so far to address it; current and potential sources of helium-3 and options for increasing the supply; current and projected uses of helium-3 and options for reducing the demand; and options for allocating the supply if it continues to fall short of the demand."
CRS Report for Congress, R41419