Saturday, August 28, 2010

Helium, not around for long for this world

If you think all helium does is make you sound like Donald Duck, pay attention. Helium has its role in cooling and cleaning various high-tech machinery from MRI machines to nuclear reactors. Most people just know that helium is a cheap way to give lift to birthday balloons. But it might not be cheap for long, reports The Independent – helium supplies are fading fast. The birthday balloons may fall to earth in our lifetime.

The situation without having helium

In 1996, Congress voted in favor of the Helium Privatization Act – and America’s supply has dwindled at a high rate of speed ever since. Helium became cheap as a result. That’s why supplies have dwindled. The 1996 law also requires that all the helium in the United States of America National Helium Reserve near Amarillo, Texas, be sold by 2015, regardless of market price. Similar circumstances exist worldwide for helium, making it seem as though humanity wants to cut off its nose to spite its face.

Exactly what is the big problem with loss of helium?

Hospitals use liquid helium to cool their MRI scanners. Terrorists are tracked via radiation-powered devices that require helium for operation. Birthday balloon individuals should know that nuclear reactors require helium-3 isotopes in order to operate safely. Then you will find wind tunnels that use helium. Surely you would like your outdoor products like automobiles and umbrellas properly tested for safety. NASA even uses helium for safely removing rocket fuel. The risk of explosion is lessened considerably. It could all be gone in 25 to 30 years, as outlined by experts in the know about helium.

According to Nobel laureate and Cornell University physics professor Robert Richardson, “Once helium is released into the atmosphere within the form of party balloons or boiling helium, it is lost to the Earth forever”.

Helium comes from where?

Nuclear fusion from the Sun and also the slow radioactive decay of terrestrial rock are the two means by which helium is made. Earth’s supply comes from the latter method, of course. It can be created by no other means, according to scientists. Waiting around for natural processes to produce more helium will take billions of years, so that option is off the table.

Get ready to spend $ 100 for a balloon filled with helium

Prof. Richardson sees the gravity of the helium situation, and suggests that prices be raised to slow the depletion. If helium becomes 20 to 50 times more expensive than the current rate (15 cubic feet of helium cost about $40 in 2009), motivation to recycle the gas would greatly increase. Thus, expect that a helium-filled Mylar balloon could cost as much as $ 100. There is no other way.

More on this topic

Helium Privatization Act

The Independent

University of Denver study on helium

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