U.S. watches helium stockpile dwindle

July 17, 2011 at 1:45 PM
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AMARILLO, Texas, July 17 (UPI) -- U.S. officials say the world's supply of helium is steadily dwindling and can't be replaced.

Texas is the site of the last U.S. Federal Helium Reserve and its underground stockpile of the gas is running out.

"There is just a finite amount of helium out here," Leslie Theiss of the Bureau of Land Management's Amarillo field office told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "There's only so much we can do. The clock is winding down on this place."

Helium is used by NASA and the Defense Department as well as in medical research and computer chip production. But it is also becoming increasingly rare since the element is created from the agonizingly slow decay of radioactive material.

"Earth is 4.7 billion years old, and it has taken that long to accumulate our helium reserves, which we will dissipate in about 100 years," said Robert Richardson, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who has studied the potential helium shortage.

Scientists are working on machines that can be used to recycle helium, but the state of the art currently is expensive and not likely to make a dent in industrial shortages that could start cropping up in the next decade, the report said.

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