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Lunar Helium 3 Could Meet Earth's Energy Demands

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the bring-back-the-rest-of-the-tang dept.

Space 372

starannihilator writes "Helium 3, rare on the earth but abundant on the moon, may prove to be a feasible energy source with NASA's Moon-Mars initiative. Despite the American Physical Society's Report that the initiative harms science, the moon may actually benefit humans because it contains 10 times more energy than all the fossil fuels on earth. Long hailed as a potential source of energy, and outlined in detail by the Artemis Project, helium 3 may solve earth's energy crisis without any radioactive byproducts. The only problem: the reactor technology for converting helium 3 to energy is still in its infancy. Read more about the Artemis Project's information about fusion power from the moon here." Reader muditgarg points out that India has just hosted a global conference on Moon exploration and utilization, and adds a link to this related story on KeralaNext.

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wow (-1, Redundant)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932360)


Re:wow (-1, Redundant)

tajmorton (806296) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932376)

First post is, is -1 Redundant. Yay for Slashdot moderators. :)

It seems.... (5, Funny)

hom (620969) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932363)

If we start "mining" the moon, we will never figure out how all this energy got there in the frist place. The moon belongs in a museum!

Re:It seems.... (4, Funny)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932403)

Well, smarty, if it's full of helium, how do we get it down here to the museum?


Re:It seems.... (2)

hom (620969) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932434)

I was thinking more along the lines of a dyson sphere museum. Then we could sell advertising space on the outside, everybody wins! Hmmm but looking up and seeing Jay Leno as the man in the moon would kill "the mood" all over the planet, we would have a population crisis! We're DOOMED DOOMED!

Apologies to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932528)

The moon belongs in a museum!

So do you!

Sure.... (3, Funny)

PornMaster (749461) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932377)

To transport the helium, just put it all in a balloon and drop it toward earth...

Wait a second...

Re:Sure.... (5, Funny)

Fishstick (150821) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932431)

I was picturing the reactors on the moon generating the power there and then "beaming" it to the earth (via microwave, or something) where it is collected by huge dish arrays and converted to electricity.

Only, there will have to be some failsafe to prevent the beamed energy from missing the collection dishes and vaporizing a nearby city.

Then we can concentrate on building the arcologies.

Re:Sure.... (5, Funny)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932504)

Our future energy plans are based on going from Llama to Cheetah, taking a shower and coming back to check up on things.

And you get it how? (4, Insightful)

DaHat (247651) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932382)

Even if the collection of H3 and it's conversion to useable energy was cheap... the transport costs alone would have to be killer.

I'm all for new sources of energy... but the transport issue would seem to be the first major hurdle, long before the needed reactor.

I should have said He3… (2, Informative)

DaHat (247651) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932410)

In my defense... It's been a long time since I gave any thought to chemical symbols.

China: Keep this Technology Secret (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932417)

If H3 proves to be a viable source of endless energy, then we must keep this technology secret. Otherwise, the Chinese would use it to fuel their ultimate ambition: a space-based particle-beam weapon [] . The principal impediment to deploying such a weapon is that it requires an enormous about of energy.

I remind the readers that the Chinese space program is located entirely within the Chinese Department of War. The space program is designed to further the Chinese military machine.

By contrast, NASA is an entirely civilian effort.

Re:China: Keep this Technology Secret (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932470)

Sure. USA dominance = good thing, China dominance = bad thing; despite by comparison history of China being more humane than USA? Nationalist fool.

History? We live in 2004, not 1534. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932520)

Typical Chinese bigots [] set their watches to December 5, 1534 and then start comparing China to the rest of the world.

We do not live back then. We live in November 27, 2004.

In 2004, the Chinese are a brutal, nationalistic people. They torture and kill scores of Tibetans each year.

When the East Timorese were butchered by the Indonesian thugs, the Chinese (including the bigots in Taiwan) did nothing. Only the Westerners, i.e. Australians, sent troops to East Timor and stopped the bloodshed without approval by the United Nations. The Chinese did take the time to condemn Australia and claimed that the Australians were violating national sovereignty.

What is clear is that the Chinese act and think in a way that is extremely different from the way in which Westerners act and think, in 2004.

Re:History? We live in 2004, not 1534. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932582)

Very well, imagine the unregulated tides of cult based behavior magnitudes more powerful than that currently occurring in the USA, that is China without its proper and just government of the people's dictatorship. The poor and uneducated die, yes, but those past that point live on subject to nearly evolutionary stakes of success and life or failure and death. That is the nature of humanity, that is being humane in the most objective sense of the word. Tibet, a haven for religious extremists but as the totalitarian monks were not covered in the "West", the "West" does not know. Tibet had to be taken down without reservations. On your second point, national sovereignty is more important than even 400 million lives if it preserves the life of 600+ million. The actions taken were harsh, but necessary and just.

Re:History? We live in 2004, not 1534. (2, Insightful)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932586)

Yes, I'm feeding the troll.

Most of us know and are sympathetic to the Tibet situation. Now will you quit hijacking other people's topics and trolling with it?

Did you miss the scale? (1, Insightful)

PornMaster (749461) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932462)

If 25 tons can power the US for a year... really... it's not that difficult to move 25 tons of anything from the moon to the earth for the billions we spend on electricity a year.

The DoE [] says we produce about 3900 billion kilowatt hours. Electrical costs vary from place to place, but let's use the national average of about 8 cents per kilowatt hour... 312 billion dollars. Transportation costs from the moon for 25 tons don't look so huge now, do they? :)

Re:Did you miss the scale? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932488)

Particularly if you set up a lunar mass-driver powered by either a solar collector array or a Helium-3 reactor, and just ship the stuff back to earth that way. And, once you have that in operation, you can ship other things back as well, or use the driver to launch spacecraft to other points in the Solar System.

Re:Did you miss the scale? (1)

Maniakes (216039) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932509)

It would require new transportation technology to make it cost effective. Round trips with conventional rockets carry suprisingly little. Look up the return payloads of the Apollo missions if you don't believe me.

Re:Did you miss the scale? (0, Flamebait)

PornMaster (749461) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932563)

I find it hard to believe that it couldn't be done with $10B.

Re:Did you miss the scale? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932601)

well, you're an idiot.

Re:And you get it how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932471)

Run a big fuck off cable between the moon and Earth, maybe? Sure it'll cost a lot, but over a couple of centuries of use it might pay itself off.

Re:And you get it how? (1)

Maniakes (216039) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932491)

The article says 25 tonnes is enought to power the US for a full year. Apollo 17 returned 110 kg of moonrock plus 3 astronauts and their equipment. Call it 1/3 of a tonne. So that makes 75 Apollo round trips to retrieve the fuel for one year of power.

One Apollo mission cost $110 billion in today's dollars (20 billion in 1970, adjusted using the inflation calculator [] ). So the total transportation costs run about $8.25 trillion. Or about 75% of GDP. I don't know how much we spend on power, but I don't think it's that much.

Conclusion: yup, transportation costs will be a killer. Not the conclusion I expected when I started fact-checking you.

Re:And you get it how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932557)

You just took the cost for the apollo mission and scaled it linearly for the extra tonnage. That's pretty god damned stupid.

Re:And you get it how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932559)

Note that moving people is a little bit more expensive than moving liquid. I'm guessing the He3 would be happy in a cheaper spaceship without all that fancy life support that humans demand. Plus, you could build parts of the container right there on the moon. In other words, you don't necessarily have to take an empty milk truck to the moon and fill it up. While your processing all that soil collecting the He3, just use some of that dirt it to make a big tank. Hell, you don't even need a spaceship. Just throw one ton tanks of the stuff using a mass driver.

The point is, the Apollo program is not a good guage of how expensive this would be. It's like comparing the cost of a submarine trip to the bottom of the ocean to the amount of oil pumped by a deep sea rig and comming to the conclusion that drilling for oil in the ocean is not cost effective.

Re:And you get it how? (1)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932564)

That's an incredibly short-sighted conclusion.

Uhhh...our shuttles are much more efficient than apollo 17 was, even if apollo17 was the last successful moon landing. Furthermore, future shuttles could probably handle quite a bit more than 110kg + 3 astronauts if designed for it. Finally, consider how much the public spends in energy every year and how much the government spends trying to regulate those costs.

Re:And you get it how? (2, Interesting)

aldoman (670791) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932585)

WTF? You are basing those figures off 1970 spacecraft that were designed primarily to carry people and not cargo that doesn't need a constant temperature (well, not as much as humans), humidity or oxygen.

I'm sure we could do it for less than $10billion nowadays - automated space craft flies off, collects the Helium, and flies it back - one way. The space craft does not need to be very heavy, because all it is is effectively a huge cargo container.

You are also forgetting that we could place the energy generation on the moon itself instead of on the earth and simply beam the power back...

Space Elevator maybe? (5, Insightful)

Fyre2012 (762907) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932524)

Wouldn't something like this [] work nicely?

Re:And you get it how? (1)

Sai Babu (827212) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932549)

No, the reactor tech comes first. Transport is easy. With present day tech, you can move enough to supply world energy demand for far less than the cost of equal fossl fuels.

Quantities required are very small.
Rail gun.
Reactor powered transport burns same fuel it carries, much like gasoline tank trucks

It's gonna happen for ONE REASON. It's a friggin MONEY MACHINE!

GNAA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932383)

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GNAA??? Try GNU (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932494)

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Who would have thought... (2, Funny)

jmcmunn (307798) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932391)

That all of that cheese up there would be the fuel that saved the Earth!

BTW, I thought cheese generally produced methane when broken down?

Re:Who would have thought... (1)

Japong (793982) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932502)

It is critical that we liberate the moon's cheese supply. The U.S.'s dependence on foreign cheese as a source of garnishing is beyond absurd, it's a stance where the slightest change in the powder keg that is Italian politics could send the price of mozerella skyrocketing! Our citizens deserve better than to be beholden to the interests of a foreign government bent on removing our right to a three-cheese blend pizza with stuffed crust.

For the sake of our country and that of our children, the CHEESE MUST STAND ALONE!

The ultimate energy source for Earth... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932392)

...can be found in the Methane from Uranus. Talk about renewable. In spades.

Re:The ultimate energy source for Earth... (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932546)

This guy ate his Wheaties before he made that joke. According to this, [] Uranus' atmosphere is composed almost entirely of methane.

Interesting... (2, Insightful)

FrogofTime (826941) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932399)

So we're going to fly to the moon, pick up some feul, and hopfully fly back without any problems. Can the ship carry more helium 3 than the feul it needs to get there and back? Otherwise it seems like a compleate waste.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932426)

If you'd fuckin read the article, you would know
that enough fuel can be stored in one shuttle trip to handle the energy needs for North America for a year.
I'll be there may even be enough to squeeze in the fuel needs for the shuttle too.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932493)

If you'd fuckin read the article

You must be new here.

Re:Interesting... (2, Funny)

Tobias Luetke (707936) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932518)

So we're going to fly to the moon, pick up some feul, and hopfully fly back without any problems. Can the ship carry more helium 3 than the feul it needs to get there and back? Otherwise it seems like a compleate waste.

1000s of scientists start to sob "daimn! we didn't think of that..."

Oh no! (1)

Aphex Junkie (633436) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932405)

Won't [i]anyone[/i] think of the Mooninites?!

Re:Oh no! (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932446)

Nah, we were never comfortable with the fact that their world wide web system uses phpBB code to markup their web pages.

Re:Oh no! (1)

eneville (745111) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932580)

What does this have to do with space?

Right. (2, Insightful)

SamMichaels (213605) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932409)

Let's replace a problematic energy source with another problematic energy source.

1) Who owns the moon? Does the American flag mean we own it?
2) It's non-renewable. It'll run out.
3) It's the MOON!

Re:Right. (1)

mansoft (371174) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932449)

I was going to post those exact three points, but since you already did it, I just can say that We like da Moon [] .

Re:Right. (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932460)

That brings up a good point. Sure, H3 may be 10 times as potent, but what if there's only 1/10th as much H3 availible on the moon as there is crude oil on Earth? Without even factoring transport costs in, there is no advantage.

Re:Right. (0, Flamebait)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932517)

retard... there is more He3 on the moon than fossil fuels on earth.

Re:Right. (1)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932476)

#1. We could argue about this all day. No one owns it, that in and of itself has tremendous advantages and disadvantages.
#2. BS, RTFA. Solar winds carry the He3 there. It'll be renewable as long as the moon is there and the sun is burning.
#3. Yeah it is the moon! The same exact place we first visited over 30 years ago. What else did we do in the 60s that we take for granted now? It's not as hard was it once was.

Re:Right. (1)

krymsin01 (700838) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932587)

No one owns it currently. Wait until the space wars start and in a couple centuries we'll have an answer to #1.

Re:Right. (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932526)

1.) probably some international treaty says no-one owns it; however, as the saying goes, possession is 9/10th's... 2.) actually, it is renewable. The He3 actually comes from the sun... The moon surface just happens to be efficient at capturing it; and, is conveniently close. 3.) So? It's just 270M miles over that way.

Re:Right. (1)

mOoZik (698544) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932554)

270M miles? I don't think so. More like 250K miles. The sun is 93 mil miles. The moon isn't further than the sun!

Re:Right. (5, Insightful)

vector_prime (575757) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932566)

1) There are _maybe_ 5 entities in existance today (US, China, EU, Russia, India; and the last two are iffy) with the technology to actually even try to mine the moon. So three nations able to send perhaps two dozen men each to a planet, I doubt territorial disputes will be an issue.

2) Yes, it'll run out. In 10,000 years (RTFA), that's about the scope of human history thus far.

3) Yes, it's the moon. It's a big, cold, dead rock. We can mine to our heart's content and not destroy an ecosystem or create a health hazard for a small mining town. If we have to exploit something, I'd prefer it be the moon to the earth any day.

Obligatory (1)

Billobob (532161) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932412)

So, we go through another crisis when the helium runs out?

dupe (0, Redundant)

GuyFawkes (729054) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932414)

nothing here to see, move along

So will that shut them up? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932418)

I'm missing something in the article - what part of this are the leftists going to complain about? Nuclear? Increase in overall heat on the planet? Mankind will think their way out of the energy crisis; just like every other problem in the past. All with out drinking bottled water in our hybrid cars.
I expect some mod abuse here by those with unlimited mod points - I really wish they would release the meta-mod statistics on mod performed in the first 10 minutes after a new story.

MOD ABUSE (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932472)

I love how any comments that show leftist in a negitive (Accurate) light are immediately modded down. This means that someone is sitting there and actively looking for such posts and then using their unlimmited mod points to hide dissenting opinions. That is really sick.

Will that shut them up? Apparently Not. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932544)

Noting that the parent is already at -1, he/she is apparently correct about moderation. So, to assist others with complaints, here is The Leftist Complaint List:

1) Being nuclear fusion, it involves the word Nuclear, and therefor is unsafe.

2) It isn't solar or wind powered, the only acceptable methods of harnessing energy for the ultra-politically-correct/ultra-left environmental extremists.

3) Since it involves the energy industry, it must have a Bush/Cheney/Haliburton tie-in, which is inherently bad.

4) Harvesting Helium 3 from the moon may destroy a fragile environment that some undiscovered life form may require.

Feel free to add more, and remember to browse at -1 since we know these posts aren't going to be rated any higher.

Do We Get an RC with this? (1)

Trailwalker (648636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932419)

Moon Pie in the sky.....

Once upon a time, on a moon, not too far away....

We have the oceans... (1)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932422)

So for this entire scheme to work, we must first solve the fusion reactor problem. But once that problem is solved, why do we need to go all the way to the moon when we have the oceans? Is Helium-3 that much easier to fuse and create energy?

Re:We have the oceans... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932545)


Sounds Interesting (4, Interesting)

31415926535897 (702314) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932427)

Here are my couple of thoughts on the subject. First, it seems like obtaining the Helium-3 would be prohibitively expensive. We would need something like a space elevator first before we could really start shuttling this stuff back to earth. I guess the other option is to build a reactor on the moon and beam the energy back to earth (but we all know how dangerous that is based on SimCity, right?).

One thing that doesn't sit easy with me wrt this is that even though there is 10x more energy in Helium-3 on the moon compared to 'fossil' fuels here on earth, I have a feeling that we would still deplete it relatively quickly (with exponential population growth and all).

I think that ultimately the answer is going to have to be with solar energy, since that is an incredible source of energy for a long time. But, whether it's looking for efficient means of converting solar energy to something usable, or transporting the Helium-3 from the moon, it's going to take the price of gas skyrocketing before people cry for a change. I just hope that by that point it's not too late.

Re:Sounds Interesting (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932538)

solar will not be viable until we can convert 80% of the light to energy.

why? because unless we have a very high energy density per panel, we will have to pave a huge amount of desert with these panels.

Re:Sounds Interesting (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932577)

. . .efficient means of converting solar energy to something usable. . .

They're called "plants."


Re:Sounds Interesting (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932593)

Photovoltaic solar is basically the wrong kind. The focus (if you will pardon the pun) should be on parabolic mirror array systems which heat a boiler. Last I heard they were getting sufficient temperatures to liquefy sodium which had some benefits over water that I can't remember. You can get much more energy out of a system like this (steam turbines are very efficient) and most of the system is relatively inexpensive. Either way you need sun-following equipment to maximize the area of exposure. Even just the copper for distributing power from PV panels is going to be expensive on large scales like that.

PV solar is best used in mobile applications where space is at a premium. In the desert, you can just spread out. That does raise questions of climatological changes however; if you cover the desert with solar power facilities what happens to the normal warming/cooling cycle? There's no free lunch, and as usual we should be looking for more ways to be energy-efficient. We will always need large amounts of energy for some processes (simply by definition) but we are generally quite inefficient. The energy problem needs to be attacked from both ends.

Nice idea, but... (4, Interesting)

calidoscope (312571) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932432)

The D-He3 reaction does have the advantage of producing a lot less neutrons than the "standard" D-T reaction. The fact that most of the energy is being carried away by a charged particle is also a potential big plus.

On the gripping hand, I do have a friend whose PhD thesis was the chemistry of moon rocks - and her opinion was that mining He3 would be impractical.

Re:Nice idea, but... (1)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932501)

Thanks for the first paragraph.
PhD thesis or not, it's just her opinion, and there seem to be plenty that contradict hers.

The ONLY problem is.... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932435)

I'm missing something in the article - what part of this are the leftists going to complain about? Nuclear? Increase in overall heat on the planet? Mankind will think their way out of the energy crisis; just like every other problem in the past. All with out drinking bottled water in our hybrid cars. I expect some mod abuse here by those with unlimited mod points - I really wish they would release the meta-mod statistics on mod performed in the first 10 minutes after a new story.

It all makes sense now! (1)

Prophetic_Truth (822032) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932439)

THATS why Bush wants a moon base!!

Re:It all makes sense now! (2, Funny)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932562)

No, that would assume he's actually interested in alternative energy sources.

Another reason to really like da moon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932442)

I like da moon [] already, and this helium will also be useful in dirigibles and zeppelins and lightbulbs!

Safest way to get the energy home... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932447)

...would be to find a way to crash the moon into the earth or generate the energy on the moon and beam it safely via gamma-ray lasers, which would boil the oceans, turning turbines to generate electricity.

Re:Safest way to get the energy home... (1)

hom (620969) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932570)

I know you! You're Spencer Abraham!

Ummm, why the sudden interest? (0)

Unknown Poltroon (31628) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932453)

THis has been known for years. Its a staple of Science ficiton, and is often used as a reason fo rgoing to the moon. THe problem is retirieving it, and sustainable fusion power.

The problem is growing demand, not lack of supply. (3, Insightful)

Freedryk (117435) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932463)

The problem with all these plans to "solve the energy problem" is that they ignore the fact that human energy demand is constantly growing, and growing exponentially. It's the same problem that we have with hard drives; in 1990, my 40MB hard drive was barely enough space. In 2004, my 320GB RAID array is barely enough space. Unless we control the demand for energy, all the new energy sources in the solar system won't solve the problem.

At least, as far as non-renewable resources go. Solar energy, coupled with a focus on efficiency and maybe some population control, would do far more to solve our energy problems than mining space for Helium-3. It would be safer and easier as well. Why go to the moon for energy when the sun delivers it for free?

What they don't mention... (5, Informative)

RsG (809189) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932465)

... is that the energy in question comes from thermonuclear fusion, and fusion can be done with terrestrial elements. We don't _need_ he3 to build fusion power plants; we can build them with deuterium/tritium fuel, or even just deuterium alone. Moreover, D/T fusion only requires plasma temperatures about a tenth those of D/He3 fusion. IIRC D/D fusion is also somewhat more attainable than D/He3 (and uses an incredibly abundant fuel available on Earth - deuterium is a stable hydrogen isotope available in quantity from seawater).

The only disadvantage of hydrogen isotope fusion is radioactivity. D/T spits out fast neutrons, while D/D can produce radio-isotopes (I think - someone correct me if I've remembered wrong). Neither technology produces hazardous nuclear waste however, and the radioactivity in question would be very short lived, cooling in decades to centuries, rather than millennia. Moreover, in D/T reactor designs, the only radiation is in the core itself, and said neutron radiation can be used to "breed" tritium fuel. Disposing of fusion waste long term, either by sealing the decommissioned cores, or storing the D/D reaction products, is easier than importing he3 fuel from the moon.

Re:What they don't mention... (2, Informative)

delibes (303485) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932590)

The attractive thing about fusion with deuterium and helium-3 is that the main reaction does not produce neutrons. There are side reactions that will still produce neutrons, but overall I think the process is cleaner. Neutrons wlll irradiate the surrounding structures of any fusion plant :(

Recently, BBC News reported that Europe might finally get on with the job of building ITER [] - the next stage of fusion power plant development. I believe ITER will use D/T fuel.

Why not Uranus (1)

AaronW (33736) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932469)

While there may be a fair amount of He3 on the moon, extracting it is dangerous and very labour intensive. On the other hand, I have read that it would be far easier to collect He3 from Uranus atmosphere, even though the distance is significantly greater. Collection from Uranus could be totally automated too. Another source could be Saturn. See here [] .

Alternitive methods (1)

MeatBlast (834728) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932477)

Rather than go to other planets to get our fuels why don't we explore alternitives like hybrid cars? It's got to be less expensive than going to the moon.

Is He3 even present on the moon? (1)

erice (13380) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932478)

Last I checked, the presense of He3 on the moon was only hypothetical. Did I miss something? Did any recent probe data indicate significant quantities of He3 in lunar soil?

Then there is the other problem. We don't have practical fusion power yet. Even questionably break-even research projects are focused on Deutrium/Tritium fusion. Is anyone doing He3 for real? My understanding is that it is harder to start than DT.

While I'm at it, I might as well throw a little more salt in the wound. He3 is not neutron-free. Oh, the main reaction is and that's cool. But there are inevitable side reactions that produces neutrons. Hense, the reactor vessel is still going to end up radioactive.

A more realistic view. (1)

John Sokol (109591) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932485)

I think a more realist view is that future generation will need that energy to support colonies on the moon and for travel around the solar system and other stars. Rather then try to bring it all back to earth.

Only 1 Problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932487)

"The only problem: the reactor technology for converting helium 3 to energy is still in its infancy."

What about the problem of getting it from the moon to the Earth?

Uh, fusion is radioactive too... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932490)

..just less so. If you look up current and previous fusion reactors, you'll find that the liners and other parts of the reactor become "hot" after a while because they are pelted by stray neutrons. One of the things ITER is supposed to help find are find materials that don't become so radioactive.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (2, Insightful)

prichardson (603676) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932492)

I see a lot of posts complaining of the cost of flying to the moon to pick this stuff up. I think everyone needs the think about how cheap it would be to just drop this stuff on earth in a nice metal container. In this case gravity works in out favor. All the stuff has to do is escape the moons relatively light gravitational pull.

It's another matter entirely decided how to safely drop this stuff, and the politics behind this.

Keep in mind this is not a solve-our-wimpy-economy-slipping-a-little thing. It's a when-we-run-out-of-really-old-dead-things-to-burn kind of solution.

Off limits? (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932496)

I know this is a naive thought, but I think we would all be best served by not turning the moon into a natural resource farm. First off, what happens if we strip mine that sucker and change its mass significantly? What are the chances of it being pulled in by the Earths gravity?

After thinking about all this, I was reminded of an anime called Planet ES, which deals with the near future when man has begun migrating to space and inhabiting the moon. The wealthiest countries reaped all the rewards, and the underdeveloped countries were left behind, being fed scraps and having no part in one of the greatest successes of mankind. Now, given the current state of global affairs, how likely does this sound?

great, soemthign else to fight over. (2, Insightful)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932506)

now the Chinese will be racing to establish a permanent presence on the moon just so they can claim it for themselves.

Infancy? Not even that. (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932510)

We can't even achieve a controlled deuterium or tritium based reaction.

IIRC, the heavier an element is the harder it is to get it to fuse. (Probably the main thing is the number of protons, which translates to increased electrostatic repulsion between the nuclei.)

Honestly, He3 doesn't seem to be that big of a deal to me. Hydrogen isotope based reactions are going to be easier to achieve, and while they produce some radiation, the radiation problem of hydrogen fusion is insignificant compared to that of fission waste.

And it's even easier to obtain deuterium than it is to get He3 even if you remove the logistical issues of getting to the moon and back - Deuterium is plentiful in *sea water*.

Seen it before (4, Informative)

delibes (303485) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932511)

Here [] .


  • The concentration of He3 in the lunar surface may be very low. It could require processing many 100's of tonnes to get a gram/ounce/drop-in-the-ocean of He3. Of course, you could build an automated solar powered mining facility on the lunar surface to do it. You'd need serious $$$ though.
  • Getting it back to Earth might be a pain. You could probably wrap it up in some aluminium projectile also mined on the moon, and fire it at Earth with a linear induction track or somthing. The projectile could have an ablative heat shield to protect the tiny precious cargo. More $$$ though.
  • You need an efficient fusion power plant to 'burn' the stuff in and convert the heat to electrical energy.
Rather than using it on earth to generate electricity, it might be better used as a propellant for interplanetary spacecraft. The British Interplanetary Society once had plans for something called Daedalus which I think was designed to use He3 mined from the atmosphere of Jupiter. Is that even crazier?

Wrong Counterargument (4, Interesting)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932519)

The counterargument to the APS's "report" shouldn't be "but we could solve the energy crisis," it should be "you're a bunch of self-serving, near-sighted idiots who seem to think that scientific funding *has to be* a zero-sum game. Do you realize that in the minds of many people, the bucks for probes is in part justfied by the Buck Rogers of manned space flight? Do you understand how much more fruitful it would be for planetologists to actually get to study the moon, Mars, etc. *in situ*? Do you realize that expanding the world economy into the solar system could have countless beneficial effects on all the sciences, on our standards of living, on our philosophical view of the universe? Or is protecting your research grant that much more important to you than the universe itself?"

some links (1)

BlackShirt (690851) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932523) ml #038353 /b log/index.php?view=7,guid,3404 de a5-08ae-4862-a0c4-269ece008bbf.aspx

A couple of thoughts. (2, Interesting)

duncanbojangles (787775) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932533)

I have a couple of thoughts on the subject.

1.) Where exactly in the moon is the Helium-3 located? I read the article but did not see mention of exactly where the stuff is. Is it in moon rock? Does the moon have an ultra thin atmosphere of this stuff?

2.) Putting a metric buttload of really good Helium in a ship and blasting it towards Earth where it will reenter the atmosphere at very high temperatures doesn't seem like a good idea. If anything happens, say a leak of the helium that caused an explosion, how powerful would the explosion be? Would it be high enough in the atmosphere to not worry about? Would it wipe out a state or three?

3.) Would it be possible to use the helium-3 gathered from the moon to power the ship back to Earth? Could the helium-3 be used to power small reactors on the moon to enable a robotic or human colony to thrive?

4.) What would happen to the moon if it were mined? How stable is the moon, and if we start taking stuff off of the moon and putting it on Earth, what happens to the moon's orbit? the Earth's orbit?

It seems interesting, but I don't know how well mining the moon sits with me. Didn't anyone see that episode of Sliders where the moon was mined so much it broke up and headed towards Earth in continent sized chunks!?

Re:A couple of thoughts. (1)

zenrandom (708587) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932583)

Point number two is pointless.
Helium is not explosive, it's a noble gas... remember your high school physics and chemistry... the noble gases are almost completely non reactive.

Re:A couple of thoughts. (1)

wasted (94866) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932597)

If anything happens, say a leak of the helium that caused an explosion, how powerful would the explosion be? Would it be high enough in the atmosphere to not worry about? Would it wipe out a state or three?

Helium is chemically stable - that is why it is used in balloons instead of hydrogen.

Fuel here or reactor there? (1)

Stripsurge (162174) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932536)

Maybe rather than having go back and forth continuously for fuel it'd be more economical in the long run to build a reactor on the moon and have energy transmitted back to Earth via microwaves. Something like this amasaki-e.html []

He3 gnomes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932541)

Step 3: Profit!

Whouda Thunk (1)

Marko DeBeeste (761376) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932551)

Moon Tycoon would be a prophecy

Wikipedia Entry on Helium 3 (4, Interesting)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932552) []

The article there appears to be a stub, so here's hoping that those slashdotters that know a little more on the subject can contribute.

Help the wiki!

Leave the moon as it is (1)

eneville (745111) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932556)

The moon may one day serve as a meteor shield, if we make it hallow from mining it looses density and thus mass.

The moon controls our tides and should be left as it is.

Well, Moon technically belongs to the US anyway (0, Flamebait)

melted (227442) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932576)

Americans put their feet on it first, so there you go - Moon is now US property. That's the payoff of the Cold War.

I'm all for space exploration (1)

multiplexo (27356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932591)

but I've always thought that the whole lunar Helium 3 mining scheme was reaching. I have no doubt that we could, if funding were put into it, develop a lunar He3 mining system, a lot of good ideas have been kicking around in the 35 years since the Apollo 11 landing, but there's the little matter of the reactor. The He3/Deuterium reaction requires higher temperatures than does Tritium/Deuterium, which we haven't gotten working yet either. So if someone made some massive breakthrough in fusion research that promised a power generating Helium3 fusion reactor tomorrow that would be great, but since no one has the whole lunar He3 mining thing comes off like a profit plan.

Phase 1) Mine He3 from the moon

Phase 2).........

Phase 3) Profit

That whole phase 2 thing is inventing and debugging a power generating He3 reactor and MHD power generating system, a pretty big step.

Why don't we use enough green sources of energy? (1)

malabar-fraise (637726) | more than 9 years ago | (#10932595)

It's free, abundant and available everywhere ! We should start to use the other sources (helium3/nuclear/potatoes) that pollute only once we reach the limits of clean energies. The fact we still use fossil fuel give me the creeps - major fuel companies have so much to lose.

Does this sound like a game.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10932600)

Does anything think this sound bit like the movie & game of Dune????
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