News & Politics

World Faces Totally Unfunny Helium Shortage


In disturbing news for clowns, people who like to do that annoying high-pitched voice at parties, and, oh yeah, people who get MRIs, the U.S. is about to sell its last stockpile of helium — currently stored underground somewhere near Amarillo, Texas — and allow the private sector to start to control the market, reports the Washington Post. Unfortunately, some scientists also believe that we’re close to running out of helium globally, and that in 25 years or so, we’ll have tapped the supply completely.

Which is kind of scary, seeing as how MRI machines rely on helium to maintain their magnets. Helium is apparently also used in welding, to manufacture LCD screens, to pressurize and purge fuel tanks in NASA rockets, and to keep particle accelerators from overheating. Who knew there was more to the balloon juice than making you sound (and act) like a prepubescent boy?

The U.S. uses about half of the helium worldwide, and in the past years, other countries have created facilities to process the substance. Algeria, Qatar, Russia, Poland, Canada, and China are likely sources for when the U.S. runs out.

But this is worrisome. If things continue this way, said Robert Richardson, a physicist who co-chaired a National Research Council committee on the sale of the helium reserve, “We will have no helium, and we will have to rely on Russia and Qatar and Algeria.”

All this serves to make helium far less funny in general. So, stop squandering the stuff for your stupid party tricks and go invest in a renewable whoopee cushion and some fake dog poop, okay?



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