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Why the World Is Running Out of Helium

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-blame-politics dept.

Government 475

jamie writes "The US National Helium Reserve stores a billion cubic meters of helium, half the world supply, in an old natural gasfield. The array of pipes and mines runs 200 miles from Texas to Kansas. In the name of deficit reduction, we're selling it all off for cheap. Physics professor and Nobel laureate Robert Richardson says: 'In 1996, the US Congress decided to sell off the strategic reserve and the consequence was that the market was swelled with cheap helium because its price was not determined by the market. The motivation was to sell it all by 2015. The basic problem is that helium is too cheap. The Earth is 4.7 billion years old and it has taken that long to accumulate our helium reserves, which we will dissipate in about 100 years. One generation does not have the right to determine availability forever.' Another view is The Impact of Selling the Federal Helium Reserve, the government study from 10 years ago that suggested the government's price would end up being over market value by 25% — but cautioned that this was based on the assumption that demand would grow slowly, and urged periodic reviews of the state of the industry."

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475 comments

Probably because of my niece's birthday parties (5, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33341904)

Jesus, Richard, does she really need hundreds of fucking balloons at *every* party? Isn't it enough we got her ponies *and* two clowns, for crying out loud?!?!?

Re:Probably because of my niece's birthday parties (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342394)

Great post. There is some great basic information about the Element at Helium Facts [thefreeresource.com] that might be helpful. Where as I think balloons are part of the issue that article shows many other used for helium that might be contributing to the idea that we are running out of the gas. Some include as an inert gas shield for arc welding, a protective gas in growing silicon and germanium crystals and producing titanium and zirconium, as a cooling medium for nuclear reactors, and as a gas for supersonic wind tunnels.

Re:Probably because of my niece's birthday parties (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342586)

You know, if someone subjected me to clowns, I'd probably be crying out loud, too!

Running out? (-1, Redundant)

hesiod (111176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33341934)

Doesn't most of it just get released back into the atmosphere? Sure, it's not contained underground or anything, but it's not REALLY "disappearing", exactly.

Re:Running out? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33341998)

It is actually light enough it can get high enough to escape into space.

Re:Running out? (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342016)

And the helium is retrieved from the atmosphere for reuse by which process, exactly?

Re:Running out? (1)

hesiod (111176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342060)

I said nothing of retrieval or reuse.

Re:Running out? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342374)

Then your point was what, exactly? Simple pedantry?

Re:Running out? (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342542)

True, but that's splitting hairs. Here we are clearly talking about "running out" in the context of not having it available for our use in some manner and not gone forever. Until we can extract the helium we have used and released into the atmosphere and oceans for reuse, or utilize some other source (the moon?), then the quantity available for our use is indeed running out.

Re:Running out? (4, Informative)

Ice Tiger (10883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342626)

The gas is light enough to escape into space, once released into the atmosphere it is gone forever.

Re:Running out? (2, Insightful)

hesiod (111176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342636)

Yeah, I looked back at the summary and realized my statement was not really useful.

Re:Running out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342216)

Steel mills (or Iron works?) need oxygen for converters. They are obtaining it by liquifying air. Liquid nitrogen and other gases is just byproduct. In my city small amount is sold to university for low temperature research, the rest is just left alone to boil and evaporate back into atmosphere.

Re:Running out? (1)

bhagwad (1426855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342756)

But aren't we doing the same thing with fossil fuels? 500 years from now there will be none left...

Re:Running out? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342024)

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium:

In the Earth's atmosphere, the concentration of helium by volume is only 5.2 parts per million. The concentration is low and fairly constant despite the continuous production of new helium because most helium in the Earth's atmosphere escapes into space by several processes

Re:Running out? (2, Insightful)

DIplomatic (1759914) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342044)

Doesn't most of it just get released back into the atmosphere? Sure, it's not contained underground or anything, but it's not REALLY "disappearing", exactly.

That's the problem. Helium collects in underground deposits and we drill down and collect it as it escapes. When helium dissipates into the atmosphere it is essentially gone to us.

Re:Running out? (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342090)

I was thinking the exact same thing - it's not like we're feeding it all into a fusion plant and leaving none for later generations, they just might have to expend the energy to recapture and re-purify it.

Re:Running out? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342574)

But think of the children!

Re:Running out? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342580)

I was thinking the exact same thing - it's not like we're feeding it all into a fusion plant and leaving none for later generations, they just might have to expend the energy to recapture and re-purify it.

Recapture it from SPACE, you ignorant tool.

Re:Running out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342120)

Actually, it's light enough to reach escape velocity at atmospheric temperatures. So it is effectively being lost for good. What we have now only managed to avoid being leaked into space because it got trapped in rock cavities with natural gas.

Re:Running out? (4, Informative)

stoanhart (876182) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342138)

Helium doesn't stay in the atmosphere, it is released into space. So yes, it is lost, since it takes hundreds of millions of years to regenerate via radioactive decay underground.

Re:Running out? (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342316)

Doesn't most of it just get released back into the atmosphere? Sure, it's not contained underground or anything, but it's not REALLY "disappearing", exactly.

If I recall correctly, it is actually disappearing. I believe I read once upon a time that helium is actually bleeding out of our atmosphere. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Re:Running out? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342338)

Not only that. It was a strategic reserve for something we do not USE, blimps. Yes blimps. It was created so the USAF and Army would have a place to get helium for blimps. What both of those forces quickly realized is blimps are sitting air targets with any sort of SAM.

What most of these guys are seeing is a end to the mega cheap way of getting helium and are thinking it will cost them 25% or more to get. They want the Gov to get back into the field of getting them cheap helium.

Helium still has its place in the national defense. However, does it really need such a large operation to do so at this point in time?

When the strategic reserve was made it made sense to build. Not so much anymore.

It had, and is, creating a crazy depression in the market of what helium is worth with tax payers eating the cost. After 2015 when it is scheduled to run out you will see things like party balloons go way up in price. As that will be the comodities market over reacting. Then it will under bounce then wavy back and forth until we end up with a stable price.

Does having cheap helium today help with things? Yes. Long term however it is not tax payer sustainable. In this case it is not a matter of building infrastructure to help everyone. It is providing a small group a cheap good. They can bear the burden of the cost as they also get all the reward...

Re:Running out? (2, Informative)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342402)

Hydrogen and helium are light enough so that they will fairly easily escape from the earth.

Why? (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#33341946)

Because it's a finite resource! (Sheesh!)

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342680)

Funny how helium is one of the most abundant elements in the whole UNIVERSE and we have a shortage!!!

of course, the problem is gravity here is not strong enough for it

Re:Why? (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342754)

You can say the same thing about water. There's lots of it on earth, but getting it to all the right places in a sufficiently pure state is a bit of a challenge.

Just in Time Worrying (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33341952)

I like how we can talk about peak helium but the second you try to discuss peak oil or peak coal you're a treehugger, an alarmist or trying to destroy the economy. I guess we have to wait until we're certain we're only a century away from using the last of a resource that took the Earth 4.7 billion years to accumulate before it's okay to start to talk about appropriate measures ...

Re:Just in Time Worrying (2, Insightful)

Jiro (131519) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342048)

People generally don't have political and ideological motives to exaggerate peak helium like they do peak for coal and oil.

Re:Just in Time Worrying (1, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342116)

People generally don't have political and ideological motives to exaggerate peak helium like they do peak for coal and oil.

Yet ...

Re:Just in Time Worrying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342498)

Please explain why people would lie about peak oil when they didn't really think it was true. I can't imagine what political or ideological motive there would be for claiming it when one did not actually believe it.

can we make it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33341954)

pardon my non science background, but is there a way a to manufacture helium?

Re:can we make it? (4, Funny)

hesiod (111176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33341982)

All you need is a star with a shitload of hydrogen and a few million years. It's pretty difficult to retrieve, though.

Re:can we make it? (4, Funny)

Flea of Pain (1577213) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342028)

Until we get those fusion generators up and running! I hear it will be in the next ten years!

Re:can we make it? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342436)

We have nuclear fusion reactors. It's just that they use up more energy than they create.

Re:can we make it? (1, Interesting)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342522)

It is way easier than that - helium is about 25% of the entire ordinary matter content of the universe. It is floating around everywhere. Just pick up any average piece of anything and extract the 25% which is He.

Oh, one minor caveat - this plan won't work if you happen to live in an area which greatly deviates from the average, such as on a terrestrial planet. Also, if you live in an area mostly devoid of matter (like 99.9999% of the universe) it might not be practical. But, hey, it works great for gas giants and stars, and that is most of what you can see up in the sky at night anyway... :)

Re:can we make it? (1)

sockonafish (228678) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342012)

Yes, but I don't think it's likely that we're going to build fusion reactors to supply floating balloons for children's birthday parties.

Re:can we make it? (1)

allawalla (1030240) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342132)

But we could if we wanted to. It isn't the same as saying that we will "run out". These people are just worried that it might get too expensive to use for their cheap projects because everyone else is using it for their cheap projects.

Re:can we make it? (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342258)

Well, do you have a better plan for using the resulting helium? IIRC, fusing helium requires even more energy than fusing hydrogen, so we probably can't use it as more fuel. Once the small scientific market is saturated, you might as well use it for balloons. Unless, of course, I'm vastly overestimating the amount of helium fusion reactors will produce.

Re:can we make it? (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342238)

You can make it from radioactive materials that emit alpha radiation. That's how it was made in the earth too. Production volume will be very low, though.

What about the space program? (3, Insightful)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342004)

Apparently, they forgot that without a large supply of helium operating their favorite cash cow, the manned space flight program, would become a lot harder. There are also many scientific applications that are virtually impossible without helium, with its boiling point at 4.1 Kelvin. Hydrogen, at 14 Kelvin, is not a perfect replacement, and has a tendency to explode. They really ought to be inflating the price, so we learn to conserve helium now while we still have plenty left.

For the children (4, Funny)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342010)

Because no generation should be denied the fun of inhaling helium to speak with a goofy high-pitch voice.

Is this really a problem? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342122)

Once we get fusion reactors perfected, won't there be an abundant supply of helium? We only need enough helium to hold out until then. If we run low, the law of supply and demand should make it prohibitively expensive to waste the stuff on parties and get-well balloons.

Re:Is this really a problem? (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342514)

Once we get fusion reactors perfected, won't there be an abundant supply of helium? We only need enough helium to hold out until then.

Fusion is the alchemy of the modern age. It can be done, but will likely be so hideously expensive as to be pointless.

Re:Is this really a problem? (0)

Splab (574204) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342596)

Fusion is easily done, the military figured that out ages ago. The problem is containing the nuke used to set off the fusion...

Re:Is this really a problem? (0)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342702)

...and all the guys with catchers' mitts and welding goggles you need to get the helium atoms as they come out.

Re:Is this really a problem? (1)

sleeping143 (1523137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342608)

If we run low, the law of supply and demand should make it prohibitively expensive to waste the stuff on parties and get-well balloons.

RTFS, dammit. The law of supply and demand is not at work here because the government is making the price artificially low.

Re:Is this really a problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342614)

If we run low, the law of supply and demand should make it prohibitively expensive to waste the stuff on parties and get-well balloons.

As long as the government does not side-step the concepts of supply and demand by selling it at an unmotivatedly low price, as described in TFS.

Re:Is this really a problem? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342686)

Uh, sure. Only issue is that fusion is awfully efficient. Something like a hydrogen bomb probably only produces a few kilograms of the stuff. Depending on the technology employed they might need to recycle half of that to replenish the losses from colling their magnets (I'm sure that He recycling isn't 100% efficient).

What ever do you mean... (5, Informative)

Nihn (1863500) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342140)

I live in Amarillo Tx, what this article fails to mention is all the helium we still have here, We shut down refining after we had enough stored, we didn't stop because we ran out of helium to refine. Our plant is still here waiting to be used comes the time to gather more. It's good to know people can make up stories about resource and how little we have left to stir up some sort of reaction. Now if oil disappears, worry.....

Re:What ever do you mean... (3, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342744)

Even if we're in no immediate danger of running out, we're still living on a planet with finite resources. It makes sense to concern ourselves with what happens when those resources run out.

"The Earth is 4.7 billion years old" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342184)

Citation needed????!!!!!

Re:"The Earth is 4.7 billion years old" (5, Funny)

toriver (11308) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342300)

Careful, or I'll get a "[citation needed]" stamp and go all stamp-crazy on your Bible...

Re:"The Earth is 4.7 billion years old" (2, Funny)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342584)

He means that earth is really 4.54 billion years old not 4.7... 4.6 is our upper limit estimate (oldest meteorites found).

100 years is plenty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342198)

With the rate that technology advances, by the time our supply is used up in 100 years, we (a) will be able to make more by fusing hydrogen, (b) will be able to get more by mining the Sun, or (c) will all be dead.

Investment oppourtunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342230)

So if i go out and buy a $20 tank of helium then in 30 years it could be worth $200 or $2000?

Re:Investment oppourtunity (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342480)

If it gets that valuable then either someone will steal it or you'll be spending a dozen times that amount just in security.

I'd rather invest it in stocks and bonds in the meantime.

Prices and markets, grrrr.... (3, Insightful)

Urban Garlic (447282) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342262)

Pet peeve wrt the summary, which quotes Richardson as saying that the price was low because a lot of helium became available, which meant that the "price was not determined by the market."

But this is what markets do, they use the power of pricing to set the balance between supply and demand. If you introduce a large additional supply of a resource with low marginal cost to a market, the market's price mechanism will reduce the price of that resource. The market will determine a low price.

The observed behavior wrt the price of Helium is the opposite of "not determined by the market".

There are enough flame wars around about the merits of markets as a means of determining prices, and IMHO they have their limits, but FFS, can we at least have educated professionals know what a market is and what it does? Markets are pitiless, soulless mechanisms for matching up buyers and sellers of resources, and disclosing price information, period full stop. They have no a priori relationship to fairness, justice, accessibility, or legality, and only a tangential relationship to efficiency.

What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342274)

What's the problem? When you're broke, you'll hock your stuff for less than it's worth down a pawnbrokers.

The US is broke.

If you didn't sell the Helium, the US debt would go up and interest rates on the credit loaned would increase. So if you waited 15 years for the market to rise, you'd be 15 years of debt further under.

And as for the "it's being used in 100 years" bit, unless we're using the earth's reserves in ~4.7billion years, then the helium WILL run out because we'd be taking it out faster than it can be replenished.

I have an idea (-1, Offtopic)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342294)

In the name of deficit reduction, we're selling it all off for cheap.

1) Means test Social Security and prohibit double dipping.

2) Means test the shit out of Medicare. If you can pay for it, Medicare sends you the bill, even if it leaves you with an estate balance of $0 when your kids go to inherit your wealth.

3) Bring our troops home from the 130+ bases we have abroad and put a division on the southern border instead.

4) Stop this bullshit "stimulus spending," most of which goes either to irreparably bankrupt institutions (hint: the balances on most banks are so deep in the red that the US literally could never make the balance) and government institutions at the state and local levels. It would be more effective to throw excess $1 bills in drum barrels, light them on fire and call it "heating for the homeless" than what we have been doing.

5) Cut all federal subsidies. All of them. Let me say that again. All of them. As in everything from road assistance, to law enforcement assistance, to university grants, to farm subsidies. Nuke the entire system from orbit and don't even consider restarting it until the economy has recovered fully.

In five incredibly easy steps, we can go from a federal deficit to a federal surplus in the middle of a nascent depression. Congress could probably draft most of these bills over an extended lunch break.

Re:I have an idea (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342548)

Sadly, their constituents would never go for it. Neither would their lobbyists.

Other than that it's an excellent idea.

It's a real shame that it would be political suicide to even suggest this.

Re:I have an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342706)

And then you'll learn that having a budget surplus doesn't magically make recessions and unemployment go away. You'd have a budget surplus, though, for all the good it'd do you.

Does not compute... (2, Insightful)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342342)

In 1996, the US Congress decided to sell off the strategic reserve and the consequence was that the market was swelled with cheap helium because its price was not determined by the market.

Uh, what? If the helium was sold and not given away, bled into the atmosphere, or some other odd thing done to it, the price was determined by the market. You may question the wisdom of putting it all on the market at the same time and getting a lower price for it than if you doled it out bit-by-bit, but I think the market did fine in determining the price in a glutted market.

This is the problem when you get experts in one field (in this case physics) talking about things in other fields, like economics - quite often, they are no better informed then any other layman. If the government buys and/or sells something on the open market, it's part of the market, umkayyy? And you don't need to be a Nobel Laureate to understand this. The fact that this was wrapped up in a nasty little bit of anti-government sentiment makes it clear that Richardson was more interested in scoring political points than enlightening the public.

$100 per balloon! (1)

rmrfstar (854542) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342370)

Right at the end, the number I was looking for:

Professor Richardson also believes that party balloons filled with helium are too cheap, and they should really cost about $100 to reflect the precious nature of the gas they contain.

That will be the day all the party stores start selling their Helium reserves to NASA.

Re:$100 per balloon! (0, Offtopic)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342518)

Right at the end, the number I was looking for: Professor Richardson also believes that party balloons filled with helium are too cheap, and they should really cost about $100 to reflect the precious nature of the gas they contain. That will be the day all the party stores start selling their Helium reserves to NASA.
Anybody else get the impression the good professor will start talking about precious bodily fluids next?

"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (0)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342416)

"Matter isn't created nor destroyed"... so can't we just collect it back up somehow?

"Once helium is released into the atmosphere in the form of party balloons or boiling helium it is lost to the Earth forever, lost to the Earth forever," he emphasised.

No mention of why this would be the case. I thought that all that Carbon we were releasing was staying up there, so why not all that Helium?

Re:"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (2, Informative)

djp928 (516044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342524)

Helium is lighter than all the other gasses in our atmosphere. So it floats to the top and is eventually lost. The Earth isn't big enough to gravitationally keep any atmospheric helium, so it all eventually disappears into space.

 

Re:"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (1)

clgoh (106162) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342528)

It's because helium is so light that it leaks out of the atmosphere.

Re:"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (3, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342588)

We're steadily losing our atmosphere to space by a process rather like conventional thermal evaporation, and we're losing helium far, far quicker than anything else because of its low mass and subborn refusal to form heavy compounds.

Re:"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342610)

I thought that all that Carbon we were releasing was staying up there, so why not all that Helium?

Because Helium is 3 times lighter than carbon, and as previously mentioned, is light enough to escape into space

Re:"Matter isn't created nor destroyed" (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342612)

Helium is lighter so, just like hydrogen, it can escape the gravity of the planet. Carbon dioxide is heavy enough to stay around.

Even if you forget that "minor" detail, extracting Helium from air is expensive (Just to give a back of the envelope example, to extract water out of air you just need to cool it down below freezing point. If the same principle is applied to extract He then you are in need of a lot of cooling [it's not how it's actually done, but it gives an idea].) At this point it's just not commercially viable to do so (and go back to first paragraph to see why it might not be later on either).

I'll blame it on the typical BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342420)

...say some aspect of the government is fucked up, or being run poorly, force it to be sold to private interests. Let them run it like crap, screw the public, force the government to come back and take things over again.

Yay!

When it comes to most people's problems, they don't even see what they desire isn't going to happen just because they believe in their fairy dreams and bubblegum wishes. Yet they will slash and burn with the sincere delusion that it will.

It's stupid, it's short-sighted, it's ultimately more wasteful...but they manage to get the populace behind them, because most people are just as stupid.

Antropologists with Tape Recorders (1)

Selfunfocused (1215732) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342422)

I suggest we start a project dedicated to collecting the sounds of helium squeaked languages around the world. We can't allow this beautiful example of the diversity of human experience to be lost forever. Plus, it sounds funny.

In the name of deficit reduction? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342428)

And what impact, if any, has this had on the deficit??? Looks like its still climbing pretty steadily to me. This is the primary problem with our government. They take out "loans" essentially from the federal reserve to create these programs, promising billions of dollars to something or other. And we all know a large portion of that is wasted. Then they sell of some resource like this with the promise that it will mitigate some of this absurdity, but none of that money ever makes it to its destination either. Seriously, where the hell is all this money going?

Why isn't the market saving us?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342454)

If the government was selling it "too cheap" then surely at least one company would come along and buy up this "cheap" helium and resell it at the "right" price!

Market will work eventually (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342502)

Helium is essential for keeping most of superconducting stuff at superconducting temperatures. Current NMR machines, for instance, all depend on He for maintaining their magnets and the market for these is slightly bigger than the market for Large Hadron Colliders.
So, if the He availability really goes down, prices will go up in the typical "supply vs demand" effect and people will stop using it for such important tasks as keeping children and girlfriends happy with princess and heart shaped balloons.

(On a side note, there should be enough alpha-decay radioactivity out there to prevent "panic" when this starts really depleting. And if it becomes scarcer, people will take measures to recycle/reuse it, rather than just letting it go to the atmosphere, and other countries (Poland is also "rich" on He) will make sure they don't waste their "gaseous gold".)

One generation does not have the right, eh? (4, Insightful)

xiando (770382) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342530)

"One generation does not have the right to determine availability for ever.", eh? Helium, eh? Let us all form a circle and talk about how we should all help save the helium for our grandchildren and ignore that we already used up more than half the oil, plutonium and other important energy sources. And copper. And we are killing off a whole range of biological diversity. But let us all ignore that and talk about the helium.

A serious impact on science and medicine (0)

students (763488) | more than 3 years ago | (#33342628)

This topic is complex and much discussed among low temperature and high energy scientists, who need liquid helium to cool their experiments. Unfortunately a large portion of helium usage is waste, such as deliberate dumping by natural gas companies who do not think the helium market (tiny compared to the natural gas market) is worth their time, or welders who still use helium when argon is cheaper.

In my lab, the liquid helium is the primary cost of doing experiments. We spend around $100 for each four-hour experimental session. It is by far our biggest expense. We try to recover as much as possible, but we only get a small refund for returned gas. So, please don't use helium where it is not needed; you are limiting our science, and you may be limiting your own access to medical technologies such as MRI in the future.

We need to run out of helium on Earth immediately (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33342714)

Because the crust of the moon is full of the stuff, and this would provide an economic incentive to go there and stay.

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