The Helium Question

Science  07 Dec 1979:
Vol. 206, Issue 4423, pp. 1141-1147
DOI: 10.1126/science.206.4423.1141


Helium appears indispensable for certain energy-related uses that may be important 50 years from now, when helium-bearing natural gas, a much cheaper source than air, may be exhausted. Present demand, however, is lower than productive capacity, and much helium is being dissipated into the atmosphere as natural gas is burned for fuel. Controversy over the need for a government-directed helium-conservation program reflects fundamental differences in viewpoints on the economic future of industrial society, on the limits of substitution of labor and capital for a depleting resource, and on intergenerational equity and risk-bearing.