05 January 2008

Will we run out of helium?

A thought-provoking article, excerpted here:

Next On The Endangered List: Helium?

Are we running out of helium? Lee Sobotka, professor of chemistry and physics at Washington University in St. Louis says it is being depleted so rapidly in the world’s largest reserve, outside of Amarillo, Tex., that supplies are expected to be depleted there within the next eight years. The helium we have on earth has been built up over billions of years from the decay of natural uranium and thorium. The decay of these elements proceeds at a super-snail’s pace.... Helium plays a role in nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectroscopy, welding, fiber optics and computer microchip production, among other technological applications. NASA uses large amounts annually to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks.

I would guess that a shortage would increase prices, which would increase exploration etc. But I wasn't aware that there is not way to synthesize it.

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