Si los radiólogos se preocuparon como E.E.U.U. ¿las reservas del helio funcionan seco?

por Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 21, 2011
That old party favor, the helium balloon, somewhat bothers Dr. Rakesh A. Shah.

"I go to kids' parties all the time, and see helium balloons," Shah said. "As fun as they are, someday these kids may wish our generation had instead saved the helium for the MRI studies they may need as adults."

The Earth, it turns out, is rapidly depleting its easily gotten stocks of the universe's second-most abundant element, and Shah said radiologists should take notice.

In an opinion article in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, Shah, a radiologist with Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., calls on his colleagues to join groups of concerned scientists worried that U.S. helium stocks are fast running out.

The gas, used for super-cooling superconducting MRI magnets, among other applications, is formed during a billion-year process of radioactive decay, and can't be artificially manufactured. The United States owns the world's largest helium reserves, mostly trapped in a series of north Texas wells. This cache is thought to supply about one-third of the globe's helium needs. But we're running out -- and partly by design.

"This stuff is literally going up in the air," Shah told DOTmed News.

In 1996, a budget-panicky Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act, which forces the government to sell off its helium reserves by 2015 to pay back the costs of investing in the system, a process that began in the 1920s.

According to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report this week, the Federal Helium Reserve in Texas is running a bit behind schedule, but still should exhaust its helium stocks by 2020, possibly forcing the United States to become a net importer of the inert gas as early as 2025.

Some experts argue the reason for helium's speedy depletion is that, in large part because of the U.S. government's mandatory sell-off, the price of the gas is kept artificially low. A 2010 report by the National Academy of Sciences, which pointed out that helium was too cheaply priced, warned about the risks of losing the U.S. reserves, and called for extending the depletion deadline, investing in cheaper ways to recycle the gas and working out a market-driven price.

"The harsh truth of the matter is, the only way to make this last longer is to raise the price," Shah said.

In an interview with the Telegraph last year, Robert Richardson, the chair of the NAS' helium report committee and a Nobel prize winner, said if the price of helium captured its true value, the cost of helium balloons, for instance, should be roughly 64 pounds -- or north of $100 -- a piece.

Maria K Todd MHA PhD

the best article I've read on DotMed yet

July 21, 2011 10:14

Thank you Brandon for bringing us this obscure but important piece of information. No more helium balloons at our family or corporate events.

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Gregory B. Holman

Recapturing Helium

July 21, 2011 10:14

When older superconductor systems are scrapped, they are usually purged by hitting the quench button. All of the helium goes, literally, "up the chimney". I have often wondered if there is a way to recapture this valuable gas, similar to the way that freon is recaptured from refrigeration units.

Gregory B. Holman, R.T.
DINY, Inc.

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Dave Adams

Re: Recapturing helium

July 21, 2011 10:14

I have heard China has been doing this for over 10 years. Only here in the USA it seems we waste energy. If you saw the remake of "The Karate Kid" with Jackie Chan, you can even see in that movie, they shut off the hot water when not using it. How many people do you know here in the USA that do that? Leaving the water running while you brush your teeth is another. If you have been to Asia, you would have seen the note they leave for you in the hotels, asking you not to waste the water like that. I guess what I am saying is- don't even get me started on this subject.
- Dave

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