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New Technology Reveals Huge Helium Supplies



(p. A8) Helium's role in superconductivity and other applications has grown so much that there have been occasional shortages. The gas forms in nature through radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, but exceedingly slowly; in practical terms, all the helium we will ever have already exists. And because it does not react with anything and is light, it can easily escape to the atmosphere.


. . .


But now scientists have figured out a way to explore specifically for helium. Using their techniques, they say, they have found a significant reserve of the gas in Tanzania that could help ease concerns about supplies.


. . .


Working with scientists from the University of Oxford and a small Norwegian start-up company called Helium One, the researchers prospected in a part of Tanzania where studies from the 1960s suggested helium might be seeping from the ground. The area is within the East African Rift, a region where one of Earth's tectonic plates is splitting. The rifting has created many volcanoes.

Dr. Gluyas said the gas discovered in Tanzania may be as much as 10 percent helium, a huge proportion compared with most other sources. The researchers say the reservoir might contain as much as 54 billion cubic feet of the gas, or more than twice the amount currently in the Federal Helium Reserve, near Amarillo, Tex., which supplies about 40 percent of the helium used in the United States and is being drawn down.

The next step would be for Helium One or one of the major helium suppliers around the world to exploit the find.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "A New Way to Search Out Elusive Helium." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 29, 2016): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 28, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Devise New Way to Find an Elusive Element: Helium.")






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