Helium 3 - A new energy source for futuregen
Helium-3, an isotopic gas of helium, could be used as a source of energy for future nuclear fusion power plants. Although helium 3 is rare on Earth, it is abundant on the moon. Some countries already have plans to mine helium-3 on the moon to fuel fusion power plants, and such plans could set off a new space race.
All nuclear power stations are currently undergoing nuclear fission, which requires the reprocessing of spent radioactive nuclear fuel into uranium, and plutonium and radioactive waste must be stored safely and effectively indefinitely. For more than 40 years, scientists have been working to create a nuclear force called fusion rather than fission. In current fusion reactors, hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium are used as fuel and are released when their nuclei fuse to form helium and neutron atomic energy. Fusion effectively USES the same energy, fuel, sun and other stars without producing radioactive waste, a byproduct of current nuclear fission power generation. However, the apparent loss of energy caused by neutrons released by tritium and deuterium fuels in so-called "fast" fusion reactors is extremely difficult to control. One potential solution could be to use helium and deuterium as fuel in "Aneutronic" (power without neutrons) fusion reactors. Participating in nuclear reactions here when helium-3 fuses with deuterium to create normal helium and protons, wastes less energy and is easier to control. Fusion reactors using helium-3 may thus provide an efficient form of nuclear power with little waste and no radiation.
A lot of the problems with using helium-3 to generate energy through nuclear fusion, at least on Earth, helium-3 is very, very rare. Helium-3, a by-product of the maintenance of nuclear weapons production, can supply nets of about 15 kilograms a year. Helium-3 is the solar wind emitted by the sun, and our atmosphere prevents any helium-3 from reaching earth. With no atmosphere, however, there is nothing to prevent helium-3 from reaching the lunar surface and being absorbed by lunar soil. As a result, it is estimated that there are about 1100,000 tons of helium-3 in the moonlight at a depth of several meters on the surface. This helium-3 may be heated to 600 degrees Celsius in lunar dust before returning it to earth's fuel for a new generation of nuclear fusion power plants.