Will helium balloons soon be a relic of the past like typewriters or the eight-track? A shortage of helium has forced distributors to ration it, and balloons are at the bottom of the receiving list. Party balloon prices have risen, and some shops no longer sell them at all.
As helium runs low, the impact is bigger than just party balloons. The inert gas has extreme melting and boiling points, which makes it important in science. The physicists who may have found the Higgs boson particle, the “God particle,” use helium in their research. Helium is also used in MRI machines, welding, ship building and in the making of microchips and fiber optic cable. Another important purpose is that, in its liquid form, helium can help prevent nuclear reactors from overheating.
How could the second most abundant element in the universe run out? Most helium bleeds out into space, where it’s abundant (unlike on earth), and the global demand for helium has exploded because of technology manufacturing.
The U.S. produces roughly 75 percent of the world’s helium, and Congress once required that the federal government maintain helium reserves because it was thought that helium would be important for air travel and warfare. When it was realized that helium wasn’t needed for those roles, the government sold the surplus at an incredibly low price (and the party balloon industry thrived).
The government’s stockpiles are nearly gone (predicted to be exhausted during the next 30 years), so the price of helium has skyrocketed, which has quickly deflated the party balloon industry.
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