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The Outfall of a Helium-3 Crisis

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the mining-the-moon dept.

Earth 185

astroengine writes "The United States is currently recovering from a helium isotope crisis that last year sent low-temperature physicists scrambling, sky-rocketed the cost of hospital MRI's, and threw national security staff out on a search mission for alternate ways to detect dirty bombs. Now the panic is subsiding, what is being done to conserve, or replace, helium-3?"

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185 comments

first post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264782)

Can't we just replace all that helium-3 with a whole mess of frosty piss?

Re:first post (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264928)

naa, slashdot 3.0 already used up all the frosty piss

and it shows....

Re:first post (1)

djfuq (1151563) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266196)

actually this version of slashdot is waaaaay better - they fixed a bunch of annoying bugs, like the comment slider that was broken for ages -- now i can expand all comments quickly no matter how lame.

Also, the page is formatted better, and looks much more up to date

THANKS SLASHDOT FOR FIXING THE SITE!

the only things missed are the ugly old icons that identified what type of story it is.. now they look more "regular" -- ill miss the terrible graphic of bill gates + borg mashup

Re:first post (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266256)

That would send the price of American "beer" skyrocketing due to the reduced supply of the key ingredient.

an outlaw of balloons (1, Troll)

Dan667 (564390) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264792)

based on how the government usually operates I expect this would be a typical response.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264818)

based on how the government usually operates I expect this would be a typical response.

Apples and oranges, Helium 3 is an isotope of Helium. It's kind of like saying we need to conserve water because there's Tritium in it. There will be a shortage of regular Helium as well soon so it's ironic it's still cheap. Helium 3 was a bi-product of cold war weapons making but since we stopped trying to see how many Hydrogen Bombs we could make there's been little or no Helium 3 produced in decades. There were once huge stockpiles but they are largely gone now.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (-1, Troll)

jdpars (1480913) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264830)

You missed the point. The government always reacts stupidly to things like this, so they'd ban regular helium just to "save" the helium-3.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264860)

The government is not out to get you. Besides; balloons are a small fraction of helium usage.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (-1, Troll)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264918)

Ahem. You missed the point. The government always reacts stupidly to things like this, so they'd ban regular helium just to "save" the helium-3.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264944)

Ahem. The government is not out to get you.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265118)

I won't bother with a list of anecdotes.. they're easily searchable. you are wrong.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (-1, Redundant)

DavidRawling (864446) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265120)

Perhaps I can help you understand, in the standard American fashion of talking loudly in the hope that this will magically convert the English words into the local dialect.

THE GOVERNMENT IS STUPID. THIS MEANS THEY WILL MAKE A STUPID, ILLOGICAL, INEFFECTIVE DECISION THAT DOES NOTHING TO RESOLVE THE ACTUAL PROBLEM.

There is no malice from the Government - it's a case where they're too flipping stupid to be malicious.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265208)

If the government is so stupid then how did it make all of that Helium-3 to begin with? That stuff didn't come from your beloved "free market," quit making a fool of yourself.

Re:how did it make all of that Helium-3 (0)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265484)

Was an accident, really; Dick Cheney wanted to sound like Donald Duck, but since he's three-faced...

Re:an outlaw of balloons (1, Insightful)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265842)

They made it for one purpose - building H-bombs. Once they had stockpiles of it, other more constructive uses were found for it. Then they more-or-less gave up the original purpose, so they abandoned the production line. precisely because there was no free market, the new uses had been getting a free ride from the bomb makers. When the bomb makers stopped producing it, the others were left flailing around. This is /precisely/ the kind of problem that arises when resources are allocated by the commands of bureaucrats instead of a market mechanism - the Soviet Union was full of it. The value of something is either ignored completely ir is frozen arbitrarily at some point early in the life of the product.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (-1, Troll)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265500)

You're missing the point. Nobody is saying they're out to get us. They're out to help us, and will make things worse by their incompetent and misguided actions. I'll cite any newspaper from any day in the last hundred years for evidence.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265126)

GOOD. We've been foolishly squandering our fucking helium. This shit is not renewable; at le.

Re:an outlaw of balloons (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264846)

Apples and oranges, Helium 3 is an isotope of Helium. It's kind of like saying we need to conserve water because there's Tritium in it.

Whoosh!

Moon, or harvest from gas giants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264798)

Just get it from the moon, it's much more abundant there. Or, skim from the cloudtops of the gas giants.

Re:Moon, or harvest from gas giants (1)

Senes (928228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264822)

The moon is hard enough on its own, but gas giants have much higher gravity than Earth.

Combine this with the fact that it takes us an incredibly long time to reach one of those planets, and we're looking at something that is still quite a long ways off. If anything, we're going to need a substantial economic boom before it becomes possible to dump funding into space programs again.

The thing is, we're looking at a problem that exists right now and we need solutions right now - not decades down the road.

Re:Moon, or harvest from gas giants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265414)

Build some more atomic weapons.

Mining the Moon, of course (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264804)

Mind you, all I know about the subject is an old Macintosh game ...

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265290)

I was just reading about Helium-3 on the far side of the moon earlier today...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_side_of_the_Moon#Potential

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (2)

shawb (16347) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265342)

More information about some of the unexpected difficulties in Lunar mining can be found in this documentary [wikipedia.org] I just watched today.

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265744)

Great film but they could have skipped making hundreds of clones by sending me. I would love to live on the moon.

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265578)

I think we're living in dire times and must construct Mooncraft, but beware of the creepers...

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (1)

CTU (1844100) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265770)

I think we're living in dire times and must construct Mooncraft, but beware of the creepers...

LMAO...BEST COMMENT EVER!!!!!!!

Tho I'd be a bit more worried about the skeletons myself.

Re:Mining the Moon, of course (1)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266330)

"Thats some very nice helium-3 you have there. Be a shame if something would happen to it. ssssssssssssssssssssss"

This is easy (0)

WizADSL (839896) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264814)

There's tons of it on the moon....

Re:This is easy (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265378)

There's tons of it on the moon....

So all we have to do is to solve the Sam Rockwell clone shortage problem.

Re:This is easy (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265748)

There's tons of it on the moon....

So all we have to do is to solve the Sam Rockwell clone shortage problem.

I believe he has an Infinite Improbability drive so cloning him should be just a matter of finding how improbable it is.

Re:This is easy (4, Interesting)

dryeo (100693) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265594)

Spread very thin though. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3#Extraterrestrial_supplies [wikipedia.org]

The Moon's surface contains helium-3 at concentrations on the order of 0.01 ppm in sunlit areas,[40][41] and concentrations as much as five times higher in permanently shadowed regions.[2] A number of people, starting with Gerald Kulcinski in 1986,[42] have proposed to explore the moon, mine lunar regolith and use the helium-3 for fusion. Because of the low concentrations of helium-3, any mining equipment would need to process extremely large amounts of regolith (over 100 million tons of regolith to obtain one ton of helium 3),[43] and some proposals have suggested that helium-3 extraction be piggybacked onto a larger mining and development operation.[citation needed]

Re:This is easy (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265764)

Also the regolith is quite dense and tightly packed. Astronauts had trouble pushing a probe more than 20cm or so into the surface. So your mining equipment would have to skim the surface and deal with a lot of rocks and irregularities. Thats a lot of problems to solve for a little bit of Helium 3.

no idea what this is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264852)

i have no idea what this post is even about, slashdot has really gone downhill

Re:no idea what this is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264900)

i have no idea what this post is even about, slashdot has really gone downhill

I have no idea what you are posting about. Anonymous Cowards are still the same.

*initiate recursive logic*

Free market (0, Troll)

snsh (968808) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264858)

If most of the helium-3 demand is driven by lung x-rays, and you suddenly need $5000 of He-3 instead of $500 of He-3 to do an x-ray, then the result will simply be fewer people and animals getting x-rays.

Unless the situation is that government funded Medicaid/Medicare is going cover the $5000 cost for the x-ray, in which case the result will simply be the owners He-3 stockpiles getting insanely rich at the expense of taxpayers.

Re:Free market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264948)

Here is hoping you don't need this x-ray done. You might die of irony.

Re:Free market (1, Flamebait)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264994)

Perhaps, this is an indication that animals shouldn't be given X-rays. I know it's going to drive the PETA people nuts, but the bottom line is that animals < humans.

Re:Free market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265032)

Given humans are a subset of animals, what you're basically saying some humans are more equal than others.

Re:Free market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265092)

You're new here, right?

Re:Free market (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265394)

That's what he's saying, yes. How is that either logically incorrect or morally wrong?

Self preservation is the most sensible, and yet, compassionate line of thinking that we evolved to have. I'd rather same a creature in my own species than a prize poodle.. but that's not out of a defined hate toward prize poodles.

Re:Free market (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265520)

That's not even superficially logical. What he's saying is that some animals (the human subset) are more important than other animals (the non-human subset). You're saying that humans are animals, therefore animals are humans. Nobody sane believes that.

Re:Free market (1)

peterxyz (315132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265650)

Given humans are a subset of animals, what you're basically saying some humans are more equal than others.

Yep - "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

This is not flamebait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265624)

Hedwards is fully entitled to believe that scarce medical resources should be conserved for human, rather than animal use.

Let's say you had very little money, and your mother and your dog is sick. Which one among you would have the dog treated?

Re:Free market (1)

korgitser (1809018) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265082)

My guess is that if there were stockpiles of He-3 there wouldn't be a crisis.

Re:Free market (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265438)

But, oh wait!

Those ridiculously large stockpiles of an otherwise difficult-to-harvest material have been sold off at artificially cheap prices by the US. It's an engineered crisis. .. and in the cosmic irony department, this captcha was 'conspire'.

Re:Free market (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265108)

You get the same result with private insurance. Insurance coverage is inelastic; that is insurance companies aren't going to change the policies because of a spike in prices for a particular procedure in a single year.

Now let's say the prices continue to rise, you might argue that private insurance will respond quicker. But then you have to ask yourself why private insurers in this country do such a poorer job holding down prices than gov't insurers (or more regulated insurers) elsewhere.

It's sad when liberal classical economic proponents today sound like the Marxist apologists of yesteryear. I think it's time to bow to reality and reconsider some of the basic premises underlying your theories, because as they are they don't capture reality, no matter how good they look on paper. (And hand-waving about the supposed crippling federal regulations just wouldn't seem to cut it, because while they might suffice to explain some inefficiency, they don't really explain the inexorable and dramatic growth in inefficiencies.)

Re:Free market (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265146)

Not if people are insured buddy.

This is why people are paying up to $1500 a month for insurance and other countries are going bankrupt trying to insure its citizens. If everyone had no insurance then I would agree the market would change this.

The problem is everyone gets xrays and that raises the cost for the uninsured and this is what we have today.

Re:Free market (2)

ue85 (1961968) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265182)

Lung x-rays? I work in healthcare and have no idea what this "lung x-ray" you speak of even is. I am assuming you are referring to MRI techniques. In any case realize there are plenty of cost effective alternatives for lung imaging, from plain film chest x-rays to CT (with or without pulmonary angiography) and nuclear ventilation with either xenon or aerosols. The if cost increased there wouldn't be fewer people getting treated, they would simply just go to alternate modalities of equal worth.

Re:Free market (1)

Hammer (14284) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265400)

I know it sounds silly.... but RTFA

a simple X-ray will show the lungs as black holes in the body, a mystery box of trouble. But if a patient takes a breath of helium-3, the resulting MRI is so bright it looks as though the patient inhaled a light bulb

Re:Free market (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265506)

Not to deny the effectiveness of that technique but I had a collapsed lung a year ago and it showed up on X-Ray without and He3, granted it was rather faint but I guess it all depends on what you're looking for.

Re:Free market (1)

Hammer (14284) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265720)

I am no doctor, I just read the article, a rare occurrence on /. :-). I had pneumonia a couple of years ago and that also showed up on X-ray. I guess this refers to some specific problems with the lungs.

Re:Free market (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265236)

Because, naturally, the vagaries of the market are so much more important than human life. We live only to serve the economy, OH WAIT!

The economy and the market exist ONLY to serve us, never the other way around. Their "goodness" may be judged exclusively by how well they accomplish this.

I doubt a shortage will be allowed to continue though since DHS needs it to check our Chinese diethylene glycol laden toothpaste for bombs.

Re:Free market (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265714)

I hadn't heard of that one but it makes sense. Interesting... thank you. (toothpaste with diethylene glycol impurities)

Re:Free market (1)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266140)

This has always bothered me. "Free-market" fundamentalist (usually neo-liberals here in Sweden) seem to think of the "market" as a living organism that has precedence over all else, including human life (except their own of course). We all have different values I suppose, live to work or work to live, but they just seem completely out of touch with the real world to me...

Re:Free market (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266264)

"The economy and the market exist ONLY to serve us, never the other way around."

"Respond to" /= "serve".

Re:Free market (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266288)

Because, naturally, the vagaries of the market are so much more important than human life.

Sure, you can think of it that way. Or you can think of it as claiming one life is better than all lives.The label you use "the market" is just shorthand for everyone else's activity including such things as chest x-rays. Those activities are important in their own right (else they wouldn't be buying helium 3).

One effect of the higher price of helium 3 has been the invention of means to recycle helium 3. That wouldn't have been discovered in the absence of strong incentives (that is, high prices for helium 3) to do so. It's also worth noting that just because someone might want a chest x-ray doesn't mean that they need one. High prices discourage more frivolous uses of helium 3.

Being done? (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264904)

Probably the same as to peak oil and other pressing issues - bury head in sand == ignore == trust in god, it's His will anyway.

Dirty bombs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264910)

Wild guess: stop looking for dirty bombs? If they are as common as Al-Qaeda operatives, the US gov't needs only to stop searching for fictitious boogymen and the demand will fall drastically.

Gross... (1, Funny)

2Bits (167227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264930)

The MRI imaging requires the patient hold his or her breath for 10 seconds. Instead of just breathing out normally, the patient exhales into a helium-impermeable bag

Note to self: next time doing MRI in the hospital, do not inhale that stuff, don't want to imagine where it came from...

Re:Gross... (1)

markass530 (870112) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264964)

from TFA: Woods then super freezes the helium to remove moisture and charcoal filters it, making the helium good for a second use. Until the FDA approves the recycled helium for humans, however Woods anticipates this may be a way for veterinarians to access the coveted helium-3. not that it would matter

Temporary problem. (5, Interesting)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264934)

There are large amounts of He3 being made in heavy water reactors that is not being collected. Until now there has been little motivation to go through the trouble and expense of modifying these reactors to extract it, but it's not THAT hard. At some point it will just be done and then we'll be fine. This is only a short-term problem. DNRTFA, of course.

Re:Temporary problem. (2)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265106)

It depends on how much gas is produced, and what it costs to capture it. At $1500/L I cant imagine it would take that long to recoup the investment.

Re:Temporary problem. (5, Insightful)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265116)

Okay, now I've RTFA, and it is one of the worst science articles I've ever read outside New Scientist or Conservapedia. Let us delve in:

But the isotope, helium-3, like many rare Earth elements, has been in high demand with only limited supply.

Helium is not a rare earth element. I have a feeling this line was inserted just to pitch the link below it.

The gas is part of the leftovers that come from cooking up a hydrogen bomb: you know two parts uranium; one part tritium

No idea where that ratio came from. It's not true and irrelevant.

While there are other ways of decaying tritium without needing to build a bomb to do it...

Is the author fully ignorant of nuclear physics or is she gearing up for some kind of scam where she sells "Tritium Decayers" to the government?

But if a patient takes a breath of helium-3, the resulting MRI is so bright it looks as though the patient inhaled a light bulb.

Not as bad, but misses a great opportunity to explain HOW He3 helps lung imaging. He-3 doesn't exist in any significant quantities in the body, so you can tune the MRI to look for that nucleus and bam, you can see the shape of whatever you fill with it.

Until the FDA approves the recycled helium for humans...

The FDA needs to approve this? That's odd, I wonder why. Too bad you didn't explain why or tell us what stage of approval its in.

For a party that suddenly saw the balloons all pop, despite the warnings, everyone jumped.

wat

Re:Temporary problem. (2)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265556)

Helium is not a rare earth element

You're right, it's not a "(rare earth) element". Unfortunately, journalists and other Muggles tend to use the term as "rare (earth element)", applying it to any element that's not abundant.

Re:Temporary problem. (2)

peterxyz (315132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265664)

Helium is not a rare earth element

You're right, it's not a "(rare earth) element". Unfortunately, journalists and other Muggles tend to use the term as "rare (earth element)", applying it to any element that's not abundant.

The original text said

But the isotope, helium-3, like many rare Earth elements, has been in high demand with only limited supply.

badly worded, yes, but plausably trying to draw a link to the recently reported shortage of rare earth elements

Re:Temporary problem. (5, Informative)

DBHolder (1196557) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265200)

The problem is not as easily solved as you make it out to be for a few reasons. The first being demand and the second being supply. The article doesn't really go into much detail but the real demand issue is the rising use by of He3 by the US gov in portal monitors. He3 tubes are by far the best devices available for neutron detection. Since 9/11 the US gov demand for He3 neutron tubes exploded and pretty much ate the entire stockpile. This has caused major headaches for everyone who uses He3 like the medical field and basic science research.

On the supply side He3 is created when tritium decays on a 12 year half-life. The largest supply of this for many years was the US nuclear weapons program. Production now, however, is nothing like it used to be. Without the tritium production we don't have the He3. Even if we did we might not meet the kind of demand we have for He3 now. In order to make 1kg of He3 you need to let 2kg of tritium decay for 12 years. Or you need to let much larger quantities of tritium decay for shorter periods of time. Either way you need a lot more tritium than we have.

Additionally getting He3 from heavy water reactors is probably not an option. The best way (the way the US gov does it anyway) to make tritium presently is by putting lithium rods into a reactor and then removing the tritium from the rods (its a fission product from lithium). While tritium is produced in heavy water reactors by neutron capture, the cross sections are very low. This mean you would need to separate the heavy water out from the tritium rich water (centerfuges) and then remove the tritium form the water molecules with electrolysis and then again separate tritium from deuterium. This ignores the fact that All the commercial reactors in the US are light water (normal H20) and countries that use heavy water (Canada) may not be interested in stockpiling tritium.

Production difficulties aside tritium is just plain expensive. tfa cites the He3 price at $5000 a liter with a goal of more like $1500/L. This puts the price roughly $37500 a gram. Tritium is presently $25000+ / g and that is a subsidized price. Its estimated that actual production cost is upwards of $75000 / g

Given all this, if we had a cheap easy solution laying around we would have done it by now.

Re:Temporary problem. (1)

mcelrath (8027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265674)

4He is dominantly extracted from natural gas, and according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], the fraction of 3He in it is quite large. Why are we not processing natural gas, or its extracted helium, to remove the 3He? That seems a lot more efficient than making tritium, and waiting for it to decay...

Other sources (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264940)

So is this one of the impacts of The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 or is separating the Helium-3 from the more common isotopes too energy intensive to have made the Bush Dome Reservoir a viable source?

Re:Other sources (5, Informative)

XiaoMing (1574363) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265084)

It's actually a fundamental physics + policy issue, but a different policy than the one you're referring to. As the article very briefly touched on, He-3 comes from the decay of Tritium. Tritium is the stuff that we put into the H-bomb (Fusion reaction rather than the atomic bomb's Fission reaction, basically redonkulously more powerful). The policy in question came from the end of the Cold War, where nonproliferation, disarmament, and the end of tritium creation.

The physics comes in because tritium has a half life of ~13 years. This means that if someone gave you a canister of pure tritium, after two decades it'd be 1/4 tritium, and 3/4 He-3. Do the math for when the cold war ended, and you start to see why we're feeling the hit from the end of this "production cycle".

It's also important to note that H-bombs, crafted from Tritium (Hydrogen-3), have a different yield once enough of the warhead has decayed into He3, which is actually one of the real main reasons why we're reducing our stockpile even though we didn't agree to the nonproliferation treaty. We're re-refining what tritium is left and putting it into new warheads (as a tanent: using more advanced warhead designs than the previous ones they replace too, so nonproliferation/stockpile-reduction in this case is a very generous casting).

While there are many "alternative" ways to create He-3, it's pretty obvious from this situation that trying to buy $150 dollars of decayed bomb innards is definitely going to be cheaper than trying to buy refined nuclear-reactor extract. But at the same time, that was probably taken into account for the final price adjustment to $1500/L.

Re:Other sources (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265188)

Yes but I have to assume at least some of the trapped helium in those reserves was created from the decay of naturally occurring Tritium. Wikipedia gives its abundance as 0.000137% of He which means unless it has some property that makes it easy to separate it would probably be extremely energy intensive to do like say cooling it to below 4K where the Helium-3 remains gaseous but the H-4 becomes liquid.

Re:Other sources (1)

XiaoMing (1574363) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265230)

Apologies, forgot to mention but my "separation" scenario was an indirect reference to a couple threads up regarding light and heavy water nuclear reactors (as well as any that have the balls to use a Li breeder blanket).

As an aside, calling tritium "naturally occurring" is about as much of an oxymoron as one can make, since any naturally occuring tritum that was on this planet would have turned into helium before it even cooled down and solidified. Within 100 years, of the Earth's composition settling down to a happy state, there would have been 0.3% of the tritium left that it started out with. As you're referring to the He-3 contribution to Helium's atomic mass, It's more correct to refer to it as just relative abundance in nature, rather than suggesting that there's some constant source of Tritium (which once again, any appreciable quantity that exists now is completely manmade) is decaying into He3 in nature.

Double aside: Same goes for Pu239, which has a half-life of ~24,000 years. That's why all crazy developing-nation-weapons-projects start with the enrichment of Uranium-235 (halflife of 700 billion years, when not pissed off by neutrons).

Re:Other sources (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265288)

By naturally occurring Tritium I mean from sources like cosmic bombardment and the decay chain of other radioactive materials. Since the He-3 itself doesn't decay that means it should accumulate over geographic time and some percentage of any large concentrations of He will obviously contain some non-trivial amount of He-3. My question was around how feasible it would be to extract whatever amount is present in the Billions of liters of He we have stockpiled.

Re:Other sources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265326)

Tritium does indeed occur "naturally". Neutrons created from cosmic rays interaction in the atmosphere caprure on deuterium in the worlds oceans to make tritium all the time ...

Re:Other sources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265904)

Fusion reaction rather than the atomic bomb's Fission reaction, basically redonkulously more powerful

No it isn't. Fission of a Uranium atom produces more than an order of magnitude more energy than D-T fusion (per atom counted, per weight it's the other way around ). The main function of Fusion in a hydrogen bomb is to provide very energetic neutrons that accelerate the fission, and also allows the use of much cheaper Uranium-238 as opposed to Plutonium or enriched U-235. Nevertheless the main source of energy in almost all nuclear weapons is fission. The fusion reaction is mainly there to supply a large quantities of neutrons to speed up the fission process.

decomission more nukes (1)

wan9xu (1829310) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264962)

and you end up with more than enough he3 and a better probability that earth survives the next world war.

Re:decomission more nukes (2)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265110)

The bombs dont give off the gas. Making the stuff that goes into the bombs makes the gas. So to get more He3 we actually need to build more bombs.

Re:decomission more nukes (1)

wan9xu (1829310) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265166)

no, we don't need to. there already is enough of this stuff floating around in the form of nukes. all that needs to be done is to take the nukes apart and repurpose it. iirc this is exactly where most he3 came from in the last few decades, i.e. since the end of cold war.

Re:decomission more nukes (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265302)

Actually there's only about 75kg of Tritium in the current stockpiles according to one report I ran across while researching some other posts so the current stockpile probably are NOT sufficient to meet possible demand even if we wait till 90+% have decayed. On the other hand we could generate Tritium just to produce He-3 for peaceful purposes but then the cost would apparently be closer to the $1,5000/L quoted in the article.

Re:decomission more nukes (1)

wan9xu (1829310) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265416)

that 75kg was calculated from the 225kg total mfr'd since 1955. the way you calculate he3 price, you assumed the decayed tritium lost. it's not. it exists as he3 in nuke heads. this decayed he3 cannot be "harvested" until the nuke is decommissioned.

Quite obvious (5, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#35264974)

The reason the helium is becoming scarce on earth is because it's too light and escapes from the earth's atmosphere. So how do we stop that? Simple, make it heavier like we did to our own fat asses. If there is one thing we are great at it, it's getting fat, why can't we extend that to Helium? "So Mr. Helium 3, would you like to supersize that today?"

By the time we are done with helium it won't even be able to get off the floor, let alone escape the atmosphere.

Re:Quite obvious (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265202)

I think you left out God Bless America

New Temporary Tax that will never expire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35264996)

Expect a new "temporary" tax on airline tickets to pay for the Helium-3 increases for the TSA. Once an alternative to Helium-3 or a new source that removes the shortage appears . . . don't expect the "temporary" tax to ever go away.

Remember, once our loving government get's a hold of our money it is no longer our money, it's their money and they don't feel any obligation to ever let us have it back.

Re:New Temporary Tax that will never expire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265134)

Like Germany, where they added another "temporary" income tax after the unification to get funds for bringing the East up to spec?
Hint: Two decades later they're still paying it.

Atlanta pool service (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265194)

Dive In, Inc. offers high quality custom swimming pool construction and swimming Atlanta pool service [perimeterpoolservice.com]. We are committed to handling all your swimming pool needs at extremely competitive prices. For your next custom swimming pool or information on any of our services, please contact us.
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outfall? (1)

sirdude (578412) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265346)

"The fallout of the Helium-3 crisis"? Dyslexia?

Am I the only one noticing the plummeting quality in journalism across the board? Besides the drawbacks of relying on spell-check and other automation, the gradual shift in the publishing industry towards the Internet seems to have dented profit margins significantly enough to affect the QA process. Books, papers, magazines ... they all seem to be suffering from this malaise.

A consequence of the tritium shortage (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265456)

This is a consequence of the decline in the U.S's nuclear industry. Tritium is usually produced in nuclear reactors. It's useful for several purposes, from boosting nuclear weapons to exit sign lighting in aircraft.

Tritium is made by irradiating lithium with neutrons Tritium decays with a half-life of 12 years. He3, which is stable, is one of the decay products, and that's where He3 comes from. (This is a commercial application of transmutation.)

The US used to have a reactor at Savannah River to produce tritium, but that was shut down in 1988. Since the early 1990s, there have been efforts to set up a new source, and presently, two power reactors of the Tennessee Valley Authority are used to produce tritium, A few extra lithium rods are put in, and changed out occasionally to recover the tritium.

The He3 shortage is a side effect of the tritium shortage.

The Problem Is (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 3 years ago | (#35265702)

Some bastard keeps inhaling it to make chipmunk voices. Oh wait! That's me! *Puff* Squeak squeak suck it bitches!

Automated Forex Trading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35265944)

its one of the best for taking info and i like it.
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Opening the door to the moon (0)

Dollyknot (216765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266198)

There is lots of He3 on the moon, getting to the moon is not hard, the hard, dangerous and expensive part is reaching escape velocity, make this far cheaper and safer and not just He3 becomes more available, but a whole universe.

The high cost to the human race's colonisation of space is caused by the danger and complexity, of reaching and leaving escape velocity, within the earth's atmosphere, the reason for this is the shuttle has to lift off with over 700 tons of fuel, the whole thing is made even more complicated, by the fact that to survive the heat of around 17000 miles an hour reentry into the atmosphere, by covering the surface of the shuttle, with the equivalent of bathroom tiles

There is lots of He3 on the moon, getting to the moon is not hard, the hard, dangerous and expensive part is reaching

The Space Shuttle turned out to be an expensive and dangerous white elephant, the reason the Shuttle was so expensive is, because of its complexity with millions of different manufactured parts.

There is another route, we can reach the edge of space no problem Burt Rutan proved this with Space Ship one, when he won the 'X' prize by reaching over 100 km twice in one week.

Yes the Shuttle was 'reusable' but in name only. They could not have turned that around in a week.

One idea could be to create rocket fuel on the moon, there is lots of water on the moon, use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen which makes very good rocket fuel.

Use the rocket fuel to fuel a space tug, use the space tug to accelerate and decelerate Space Ship one, to and from escape velocity in the safety of a vacuum.

The moon is the door to the solar system.

Going to Mars is like 'trying to run before we can walk' we need to build a base on the moon first.

There is lots of silica on the moon, silica is the main component of glass, what we could do is build a huge glass dome with an aluminium skeleton and live under it, some estimates have moon rock, with around 40% oxygen, thus we can breathe if it is extracted.

The Moon (1)

TM22721 (91757) | more than 3 years ago | (#35266530)

There is a lifetime supply of He3 on the moon. It's just sitting on the surface ready to scoop up. He3 is more valuable than gold. We also need it for fusion reactors. A moon mission would re-unite this country and get out from under the tyranny of OPEC.

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