As the Nobel Prize winner in 1996 for his work on superfluidity of Helium, Robert Richardson has issued a warning that our supplies of Helium are being used at a unimaginable rate and could be gone within a generation.
Helium is not only used to fill balloons. It is also used in cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI scanners at hospitals. There is no substitute because Helium has the lowest boiling point. It is also required for fiber optics, sea/space exploration, welding, supersonic wind tunnels, cooling nuclear reactors, life-saving medical procedures & diagnostics, cryogenics, laboratory research, lasers, LCD’s (ie. flat screen TVs), rare document preservation & breathing ventilators for infants and the ill. It has even been used to commit suicide.
The price of Helium does not reflect our supply. In 1996 the Helium Privatization Act of the U.S. Congress required the Helium held underground in the West be sold off at a fixed rate until 2015 regardless of market value. This was done to pay off the original cost of the Helium reserve. This U.S. facility called the Amarillo storage facility holds about half of the Earth’s stock of Helium. Currently the U.S. supplies 80% of the world’s Helium demand.
Richardson said that it has taken 4.7 billion years for the Earth to accumulate our Helium reserves. The United States’ reserves were purchased in 1925 and will be gone in only a hundred years from getting it.
Once the Helium is released into the atmosphere it is gone forever. There is no chemical way of manufacturing Helium. The reserves the U.S. has came from very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rock. It costs about ten thousand times more to get Helium from the air than it does from rocks and natural gas reserves.
A recent report from the US National Research Council recommends that the US reconsiders its policy on the selling of Helium.
Source: PhysOrg.com Lin Edwards. The world is running out of Helium: Nobel prize winner. http://www.physorg.com/news201853523.html
Video: A World Without Helium
“Where does helium come from? The element that inflates our balloons and makes us talk funny is actually SUPER rare on planet Earth. And we’re running out.”
Up in the Air: The BLM’s Disappearing Helium Program
Charles G. Groat, Ph.D. and Robert Richardson, Ph.D.
Testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. House of Representatives
May 13th, 2010
“Our committee concluded that the sell-off has had and will continue to have adverse effects and we developed a series of recommendations to address several outstanding issues with respect to the reserve… If this path continues to be followed, within the next ten to fifteen years the United States will become a net importer of helium whose principal foreign sources of helium will be in the Middle East and Russia.”
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“… we should be aware that every time we fill a Helium balloon, we’re taking something that it took the entire natural history of the Earth to create and sending it into the atmosphere…”
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“As helium reserves tighten, the greatest impact could be on healthcare and small-scale scientific research. For example, a shortage could restrict the ability to obtain an MRI, too, if scanners become difficult to maintain with little helium to be found.”
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The Week, UK
“Diminishing helium supplies should be used for life-saving equipment not balloons, says professor”
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“Unfortunately, the depletion of the nation’s helium supply affects a lot more than balloons.”