It took a few billion years to form the earth’s supply of helium (that’s 7 days for those of you who went to high school in the Bible Belt). This generation is going to piss it away in kid’s balloons, in part because the stuff is being sold on the cheap in order to put a few bucks in the US Treasury.
[…]A billion cubic metres – or about half of the world’s reserves – are now stored in this cluster of mines, pipes and vats that extend underground for more than 200 miles from Amarillo to Kansas.
But in 1996, the US passed the Helium Privatisation Act which directed that this reserve should be sold by 2015 at a price that would substantially pay off the federal government’s original investment in building up the reserve.
The law stipulated the amount of helium sold off each year should follow a straight line with the same amount being sold each year, irrespective of the global demand for it. This, according to Professor Richardson, who won his Nobel prize for his work on helium-3, was a mistake. “As a result of that Act, helium is far too cheap and is not treated as a precious resource,” he said. “It’s being squandered.” [emphasis mine]
Helium is used to cool infrared detectors, nuclear reactors and MRI scanners. It can’t be synthesized, yet we’re selling it so cheaply that recycling doesn’t make financial sense.
I understand the theory behind privatization, but I sure haven’t seen much worthwhile practice. (via)