萎缩的氦产业

牛津—氦对于以技术为基础的当今世界来说至关重要。它能精确冷却磁共振(MRI)机的超导线圈和用于制造智能电话芯片和制光纤玻璃的硅。对压馈火箭、大物理甚至派对气球,都没有氦的现实替代物。

到目前为止,地球上看似取之不尽的氦供应完全来自24个富藏氦资源的天然气田,它们是天然气生产的副产品。但全球氦产量短缺让氦价格以两位数的增长率上涨,也让科学界的焦虑日益增加。如今,美国(世界最大氦出口国)勘探者正在勘察专门生产氦的矿藏。

氦短缺难免会刺激关于生产和保护的争论。自1996年美国氦私有化法案(HPA)实施以来,已经发生了三次类似的短缺。HPA要求政府以呆板的价格公式出售其还储备,以偿还20世纪60年代大规模购氦所累积的债务。

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