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Global Helium Shortage Could Sink Clowns And Superconductors


Sure, fewer party balloons and squeaky-voice clown pranks would be a shame. But recent reports of a worldwide shortage of helium could also create supply problems in the production of some of the most advanced technologies, reports Quebec news site Le Soleil.

Reserves of helium, a non-renewable resource that is abundant in nature but hard to capture, is found mainly in the U.S., especially in Texas, where it is stored as a byproduct of natural gas production.

In the early 20th century, as helium was considered critical to American defense, the U.S. government created a national helium reserve, and the U.S. still has one-third of the world’s entire stock, notes Smithsonian Magazine.

But in 1996, Congress mandated that the reserve be sold down and private companies haven't taken up the slack, and “consumers are left with spiking prices and tightening supplies,” reports Popular Mechanics.

Helium is necessary not only for its well-known properties of keeping party balloons afloat and causing funny voices. It is critical to the functioning of superconductors, particle accelerators, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), welding, weather balloons and fiber optics, among many other scientific and health uses.

According to the Guardian, a single helium party balloon should cost 75 pounds ($122 dollars) if it were priced to reflect the scarcity of helium. Some scientists have called for a reduction or ban in the use of helium balloons. Cornell University professor Robert Richardson, who won a Nobel prize studying helium, is leading the efforts. “We are squandering an irreplaceable resource,” Richardson says.

If the stock continues to deplete, here's some of what you might miss:

Lionel Richie on helium

Helium-balloon-powered lawn chair flies 200 miles

Scientists at Oxford demonstrate one of helium's most useful properties

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Piercing The "Surovikin Line" — Inside The Biggest Win Of Ukraine's Counteroffensive

The area around Robotyne, in southeastern Ukraine, has been the centre of a fierce two-month battle. Ukrainian publication Livy Bereg breaks down how Ukrainian forces were able to exploit gaps in Russian defenses and push the counteroffensive forward.

photo of two soldiers advancing at daybreak

A new dawn across the front line?

Kyrylo Danylchenko

ROBOTYNE — Since the fall of 2022, Russian forces have been building a series of formidable defensive lines in Ukrainian territory, from Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region to the front in Vremivka in the Donetsk region.

These defenses combined high-density minefields, redoubts (fortified structures like wooden bunkers, concrete fortifications and buried granite blocks), as well as anti-tank ditches and pillboxes. Such an extensive and intricate defensive network had not been seen in Europe since World War II.

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