World running out of helium as price tag falls
Published 23/08/2010 | 05:00
IT is the second-lightest element in the universe, has the lowest boiling point of any gas and is commonly used to inflate party balloons. But helium is also a non-renewable resource and the world's reserves are about to run out.
Scientists have warned that the gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate 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 -- the biggest store of helium in the world -- must be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.
Experts warn that the world could run out of helium within 25 to 30 years, potentially spelling disaster for hospitals, whose MRI scanners are cooled by the gas, and anti-terrorist authorities who rely on helium for radiation monitors. Scientists say the price should rise by between 20- and 50-fold to make recycling more worthwhile. (© Independent News Service)