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Another extraordinary delusion: Mining helium from the Moon

Another extraordinary delusion: Mining helium from the Moon

Asia Times tells us that there is a “secret mining war” taking place in space over helium-3, a version of helium which is surprisingly abundant on the Moon. Helium-3 is an isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. The far more prevalent arrangement is helium-4, two protons and two neutrons.

(For those only vaguely familiar with the periodic table, helium is an element which therefore cannot be manufactured from other other elements and must be harvested from nature.*)

The fascination with helium-3 is as a fuel for fusion reactors. This fuel, it turns out, would produce absolutely no radioactive waste—unlike hydrogen-fueled fusion reactors which produce pesky neutrons that bombard components of the reactor and render them radioactive.

So, let’s get this straight. There is supposedly a “secret mining war” between China, the United States and possibly Russia over potential resources on the Moon, resources that might provide very clean fuel for fusion reactors of which there are zero of the commercial variety. And, the number of commercial fusion reactors is likely to stay at zero until at least mid-century. And, there is no assurance that the type of reactor that could use helium-3—which would require much higher temperatures than the hydrogen-fueled ones being contemplated now—will be commercially available any time soon after mid-century.

Some of the challenges of building such a helium-3 friendly reactor are detailed in this piece. Keep in mind that hydrogen is wildly abundant on the Earth in the form of water. Even the far scarcer isotope of hydrogen, deuterium—which is used in current fusion experiments—is much easier to obtain than helium-3 on the Moon and is commercially available today.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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