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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Understanding the Impact of Selling the Helium Reserve



Selling the Nation's Helium Reserve

Released June 2010

Helium has long been the subject of public policy deliberation and management, largely because of its many strategic uses and its unusual source-it is a derived product of natural gas and its market has several anomalous characteristics. Shortly after sources of helium were discovered at the beginning of the last century, the U.S. government recognized helium's potential importance to the nation's interests and placed its production and availability under strict governmental control. In the 1960s, helium's strategic value in cold war efforts was reflected in policies that resulted in the accumulation of a large reserve of helium owned by the federal government. The latest manifestation of public policy is expressed in the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (1996 12 Act), which directs that substantially all of the helium accumulated as a result of those earlier policies be sold off by 2015 at prices sufficient to repay the federal government for its outlays associated with the helium program.

The present volume assesses whether the interests of the United States have been well served by the 1996 Act and, in particular, whether selling off the helium reserve has had any adverse effect on U.S. scientific, technical, biomedical, and national security users of helium.

Committee Members and NRC Staff

Charles G. Groat, Co-chair, University of Texas at Austin
Robert C. Richardson, Co-chair, Cornell University
Robert R. Beebe, Independent Consultant
John R. Campbell, J. R. Campbell & Associates, Inc.
Moses H. Chan, Pennsylvania State University
Janie M. Chermak, The University of New Mexico
Carol Dahl, Colorado School of Mines
Thomas Elam, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Allen M. Goldman, University of Minnesota
Norman E. Hartness, Independent Consultant
W. John Lee, Texas A&M University
Albert Migliori, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, LANL
David C. Mowery, University of California, Berkeley
Michael Prats, Michael Prats & Associates, Inc.
J. Benjamin Reinoehl, RMW Solutions
Igor Sekachev, TRIUMF
Thomas A. Siewert, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Mark H. Thiemens, University of California, San Diego

NRC Staff
Donald C. Shapero,
Director, Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA)
Gary Fischman, Director, National Materials Advisory Board (NMAB)
Michael Moloney, Associate Director, BPA
James C. Lancaster, Program Officer, BPA

The project is pleased to acknowledge support from the Bureau of Land Management.