Will there be a helium crisis?

Is it possible that the relative price of helium will rise in nearly unprecedented fashion?  Robert Richardson voices his opinion:

[The US government should] Get out of the business and let the free market prevail.  The consequence will be a rise in prices.  Unfortunately party balloons will be $100 each rather than $3 but we'll have to live with that.  We will have to live with those prices eventually anyway.

He notes:

There is no chemical means to make helium.  The supplies we have on Earth come from radioactive alpha decay in rocks.  Right now it's not commercially viable to recover helium from the air, so we have to rely on extracting it from rocks.  But if we do run out altogether, we will have to recover helium from the air and it will cost 10,000 times what it does today.

Yet helium is the second most abundant element in the universe and it accounts for 24% of the mass of our galaxy, according to Wikipedia.  The marginal cost curve stands between plenty and scarcity.

We also use helium in machines designed to detect radioactivity.  Right now the government is committed to selling off its strategic reserve of helium, located near Amarillo, Texas, by 2015.  Here is a dialog on helium extraction.  Here is a dialog on the forthcoming helium crisis.  Here is another short article.  Here is a book chapter on the helium reserve.  Richardson claims the helium crisis will arrive in twenty-five years' time.


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