Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Helium 3: Black Gold on the Moon?

Yesterday the BBC's popular science program Horizon was a bit of an eye-opener. Apart from featuring a guy who's become a millionaire selling lunar real estate to (Hollywood) stars (how, pray tell?), it also sported an ex-Apollo astronaut (Harrison Schmidt) who's founded a company that plans to mine Helium 3 (He3) on the moon, as well as a leading Russian rocketeer who plans to do the same.

So what's the story? He3 is supposed to be the beesknees in terms of fuel for fusion reactors. These reactors fuse Helium 3 and Deuterium together in a manner that's very similar to the reactions that take place in the core of our sun (and most other stars) and which yield similar, ginormous amounts of energy.

Simply put, He3-D fusion reactors are the Holy grail of commercial energy production and offer the prospect of limitless production of pollution-free energy (and no carbon dioxide either!) Compared to other fusion reactions currently being developed, He3-D produces far less fast neutrons, the latter being a nuisance factor, apparently. There's only one snag: He3 on Earth is exceedingly rare and apparently only occurs in decommissioned nuclear weapons (huh?)

Enter the Moon as a giant He3 open mine. How? He3 is part of the charged particles the sun flares off in large amounts, known also as the Solar Wind. The Earths magnetic field and atmosphere deflects these particles but on the bare Moon they simply hit the surface and some become absorbed in the powdery soil. Over billions of years, this has turned the Moon's surface into a potential El Dorado for lunar He3 diggers. About 25 tonnes of the stuff would be enough to provide all energy requirements of the US for one year.

Alternatively, one could see the Moon as the new Middle East (but without Arabs) and with massive land-grabs looming over the lunar horizon...

Related articles
here and here.


At 4:05 PM, Blogger Emmanuel said...

So we'll destroy the moon in order to improve Earth's environment? I guess it isn't as bad as wrecking 3rd world countries to improve the first world's environment (not that the exploitation here on Earth will will stop once lunar exploitaion begins).

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Wait and see, I guess...


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