Why the world is running out of helium
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August 23, 2010: Article describes how the world supply of helium is going fast and cheap. The majority of helium on the planet is found naturally in the United States. Most of it is kept in the US National Helium Reserve, which was established in the 1925 back when we thought everyone would be riding around in zeppelins till the end of time.

In 1996, a US law was passed intended to save the government money by privatizing and eliminating the helium reserve. This dictated selling all the helium no later that 2015, regardless of what the market could bear. As a result, for several years helium has been going so cheaply, it's not worth anyone's time to conserve or recycle it. Major users of helium don't worry about how much they're wasting or releasing into the atmosphere. Thing is, when it's out, it's really just gone. It takes nature millions of years to produce more, and while helium is quite plentiful in the universe overall, there's not all that much here on Earth.

Which wouldn't be a problem if all we did with it is float balloons at kiddies birthday parties. Sure, no more balloons would be a bummer, but there's plenty more we do with helium. Here's a few things that would be impacted by running out of helium:


2. Wikipedia on Helium - used to expand the list of things you can do with helium

Game and Story Use

  • All the troubles of the aftermath of Peak Oil can now apply to your favorite alternate history or steampunk setting, as the precious airships can no longer be produced or maintained for lack of helium.
  • Justifies crazy scientific adventures (either voyages into space to gather it, or the invention some crazy mad science reactor to produce helium on Earth) to restock the world's helium supplies.
  • An evil megacorp might be behind the screwy US law. Why would someone push for mandatory selling of helium at rock-bottom prices? Because they plan to buy it all up, wait a few years till the demand is high, and then sell it at a massive profit!
    • Or better yet, corner the market and then refuse to sell! The LHC at CERN uses 96 metric tons of liquid helium - so a mad scientist building an even bigger particle accelerator might need even more.
      • Then no one can build a fleet of airships as big as ours! Today ve control ze helium, tomorrow ve control ze vurld!
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