Emerging Helium Crisis in India

India Mar 28, 2021

India depends on the Helium it imports for its needs. With the United States of America set to discontinue exports of helium in 2021, the Indian industry stands to lose out heavily.

Contrary to general understanding, Helium is not just used to fill balloons, but it is the vital ingredient in India's  technology and medicine sectors. Every year, India imports helium worth Rs. 55,000 crores from the U.S. to meet its needs. The colorless, odorless, tasteless, nontoxic gas is primarily used to cool things, with its biggest commercial use being in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. It is used in medicine, scientific research, for blimp inflation, party balloons as well as having welding applications. It also finds many applications in cooling infrared detectors and nuclear reactors, machinery for wind tunnels, operation of satellite equipment, and to pressurize fuel tanks for space travel.

The Rajmahal volcanic basin, located in Jharkhand, is the storehouse of India’s helium, keeping the element trapped for billions of years. At present, researchers are mapping the Rajmahal basin extensively for future exploration and harnessing of helium.

The supply of helium is likely to get even more unpredictable soon because there are limited sources of the gas on Earth. It is rare, with much of it transformed at refineries in the United States of America and Qatar.

Most of the helium we have access to is a byproduct of natural gas extraction. The U.S. began to store helium in 1925, creating the National Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, a site managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Helium Privatization Act was created to help the federal government pay off its investment in the network of pipes used to store our helium reserves. The law indicated that the same amount of helium should be sold per annum to ensure a stable supply rate while simultaneously keeping prices low to ensure high volume of sales.

The price of helium has now gone up at least 250%, with federal research labs benefitting from a subsidy to keep the price within reach.

After realizing that the U.S. is the world’s  largest storehouse of helium, the U.S. also became the most important exporter of helium across the world. But now with the US planning to halt the export of helium in 2021, India is left in the lurch.

This article has been written by Kyra Songadwala for The Paradigm

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