A large Cold War supply of helium-3 has begun to rapidly run out, due to heavy demand from U.S. scientists who need the gas for neutron detectors and cryogenic experiments. Almost 60,000 liters of helium-3 were used in 2007 and 2008, compared to just 10,000 liters used annually about 10 years ago. A House subcommittee has been convened to search for a solution this week, New Scientist reports.
The U.S. formerly stockpiled helium-3 from the decay of tritium, the radioactive hydrogen isotope used to make nuclear weapons. That helium-3 supply stopped growing for the most part when the U.S. ceased making tritium in 1988. But in an ironic twist, the fast-growing use of neutron detectors in security systems designed to detect illegal plutonium and other nuclear materials has dramatically eaten into the helium-3 stockpile.
The shortage has slowed down the growth of quantum computing and other scientific fields which depend upon frigid conditions provided by helium-3 refrigeration. National laboratories have also been forced to develop less-sensitive neutron detectors which rely upon lithium and boron instead of helium-3.
Since the early freeze on tritium production, the U.S. did resume making bomb-grade tritium at one civilian nuclear plant in 2003. The AP notes that President Obama's 2010 budget includes funds for the Tennessee Valley Authority to expand tritium-production to a second nuclear plant, even if Obama has taken a recent stand against the development of new nuclear weapons. So fans of a quantum computing future need not give up hope just yet.
[via New Scientist]
Wait... if we can make it why do we need to go to the moon?
6x the usual consumption a few years ago, compared to the usual consumption 10years ago? whoops! statistical error! Someone better be getting their math learning on in the government and soon, or we're in for some trouble later when they try to figure out how much fresh water we're going to need :O
Over two decades now and we're still using a byproduct of weapons-grade nuclear material for cryogenics & the like?
There's gotta be a better way... why not try some more experiments with laser cooling¿?
@animemaster Reread the article.
Helium-3 can only be made in large amounts as a byproduct of weapons grade tritium (regular tritium is found in glowsticks, night sights, etc.) and doing that is by no means a practical solution. Whereas going to the moon, we can possibly get Helium-3 from there as a result of digging and not making weapon's grade fission material left, right and center.
Think about it from this perspective:
What's easier and cheaper? Making synthetic motor oil or dredging it up out of the ground?
SJak I see you didn't factor in launching a heavy lift vehicle, sending it to the moon and than sending it back.
For now it would be less efficient, and let's face it, we need more nukes for when the V's come knocking :). However, once a base on the moon was established, obtaining Helium-3 would be nearly effortless. This provides an economic incentive for moon landings. But if they used a rocket to send it back to earth, valuable as this stuff is, there'd likley be net loss. So what should be done is quite simple. Construct a railgun launch system, or some other alternative. If you're just firing fuel canisters, you don't really need to worry about G force, and since there's 1/6th the gravity, you'd need 1/6th the power to fire it to earth (Probably wrong though, haven't taken into account the trajectory you'd need). Anyway, if you could fire off a small ship with a couple of surrogates and a small basic base (fuel cells/nukes for recharge) you could have them construct a lunar base from materials at hand, of course that may be stretching it or combining two good ideas in a bad way. ANYWAY back to the main point, lunar non-rocket launches would be (relativley) cheap and once the base was constructed you'd start getting payback. Could take a rather long while for the payback, considering the quantity of helium-3 extracted it could be a decade (though I doubt it'd be THAT much higher). Sorry for my rather lengthy post and for my bad sentence syntax but I'm tired and I felt this was a good place to post my ideas.
**Private Moon Base 2025!**
You know, that is the basis of a British movie called 'Moon'. It's a bit psycho and messed up my head after it; but I see that plan as a potentially viable one.
I would just like to point out that Tritium is used in FUSION bombs NOT FISSION bombs. I also agree with craigboy, getting to the moon is far less cost effective compared to making tritium.
we should go to the moon, we'll need it for fusion when it's developed "in a few decades"
Rather confused, what is He3 used for in fusion? I'm under the impression that more... efficient designs are deuterium-deuterium reactors (Heavy water) but if He3 could be used, it be far more available on the moon than heavy water (by weight 0.03% of water is heavy water) and it could power the aforementioned railgun.
That's what I was thinking as well.
So I've been reading up on this stuff and have some info to report.
A 3He reactor is apparently 3.5 times easier to get started.
A helium-3 refrigerator uses helium-3 to achieve temperatures of 0.2 to 0.3 kelvin. A dilution refrigerator uses a mixture of helium-3 and helium-4 to reach cryogenic temperatures as low as a few thousandths of a kelvin
It's also used to map the air flow in lungs very useful and expensive medical application.
And it makes the best neutron detects.
Its supply is linked to the past production of tritium. It would be hard to know whether or not its cheaper to get it from the moon or to make it with out knowing what it costs to make.
No matter what, the desire for:
: when added with growth and time make it inevitable that we go into space with a very permanent presence.
It's just going to take longer... way longer then we all hoped... We'll all be old (old old) when space mining or moon tourism is considered normal.
Unless there is a severely major cold war effort combined with the peoples support but I don't see that happening.
@soroshi Tritium is ONLY used in the fission stage; there is none in the fusion stage.
The fusion stage of a thermonuclear weapon uses lithium deuteride(enriched in lithium-6). Tritium is produced in the fusion stage by bombarding the lithium with fast neutrons from a "spark-plug" fission bomb. The third stage is depleted or natural uranium in the pusher/tamper of the fusion stage and in the casing; when bombarded with very fast D-T fusion neutrons it will fission even though it cannot directly support a chain reaction.
railguns are bit ineffecient imo... there have been good improvements made with impulse/ion drives recently, ya really dont need any more than a lil nudge off the moon. . .perhaps a rocket to start but ya definitely DONT need to shoot radioactive material back @ the earth at supersonic speeds while consuming enough electricity to power whole cities :/
we'll let Dustin2127 catch it ;)
...having drones/surrogates/etc. obtain it for us ahead of time while they are doing a bit of terraforming is always a good idea :D
hooray! free he3! I'll be rich! and are you implying that manned spacecraft come back at subsonic speeds? O.o Yeah it'd need a little nudge, but who says the railgun can't provide just that? eh, just my 0.00000002 million dollars.
I'm for the railgun. Just think of all the other fun things you could do with one.
off topic but would that be a picture of a nomo (or w/e) from master of orion 3?