The Azimuth Project
Peak helium

Contents

Idea

Helium is an important element in certain high-technology applications because of the extreme nature of many of its properties (compared to other elements), namely its non-reactiveness, high thermal conductivity, transparency to neutrons and low boiling point.

Helium is an unusual commodity in that, due to its extreme lightness, any free helium will rapidly escape into space. As such, the only helium available on earth is located at salt domes over granite, where radioactive decay slowly generates helium nuclei (i.e., alpha particles) and keeps them trapped.

The majority of these deposits are in the US and in the first half of the twentieth century the US government gathered the a very large reserve of helium from these sources as a strategic national resource. In the 1990s the US government began a 20 year schedule to sell off these reserves, even though this resulted in helium being sold at a price that is widely considered as significantly below that warranted by its scarcity. Nobel prize winner Robert Richardson is leading a campaign to realign prices for helium in order to reflect its scarcity.

References

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