Will we face a helium balloon shortage? | Michigan Radio

Will we face a helium balloon shortage?

Aug 27, 2010

I've never thought about this before, but where exactly does helium come from?  Turns out, the gas comes from rocks decaying underground. It can't be manufactured and it's not renewable. Scientists are warning that our helium reserves are being quickly depleted. The Independent reports that the we could run out of helium in 25 to 30 years...

"because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle. The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price. "

And it's not just balloon lovers who should be concerned.  The paper reports:

"Liquid helium is critical for cooling infrared detectors, nuclear reactors and the machinery of wind tunnels. The space industry uses it in sensitive satellite equipment and spacecraft, and NASA uses helium in huge quantities to purge the potentially explosive fuel from its rockets."

The depletion of the gas is "potentially [a] disaster for hospitals, whose MRI scanners are cooled by the gas in liquid form, and anti-terrorist authorities who rely on helium for their radiation monitors."

And for those of us who get a kick out of floating balloons (or making our voices sound funny). Are we not paying the true cost of this gas?