An anonymous reader writes: What do MRI machines, rockets, fiber optics, LCDs, food production and welding have in common? They all require the inert, or noble, gas helium for their use or at some stage of their production. And that helium essentially could be gone in less than three decades
The U.S. holds vast majority of the world helium stocks, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; the gas sits underground in natural salt domes atop granite in the Great Plains. Congress passed a law in 1996 dictating the sale of all U.S. stocks by 2015 to compensate the government for its investment in the helium and its storage. A 2000 study conducted by the National Research Council concluded that a helium surplus would exist for the foreseeable future. Soon after that report, however, helium usage skyrocketed, as the gas yielded many benefits for industry and medicine. In a January 2010 report for the National Research Council, “Selling the Nation’s Helium Reserve,” Richardson and committee cochair Charles G. “Chip” Groat, a University of Texas at Austin geologist, described the pitfalls of the current U.S. strategy.