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), helium dating, rare document preservation & even to help premature babies breath. Liquid helium is also used in cryogenics.
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 cost 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
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