Mining the moon to meet our energy needs may sound like the plot from a sci-fi movie, but China is considering doing exactly that. Helium 3 is an extremely valuable isotope that could be used in clean fusion plants to generate energy – and it’s available in vast quantities on the moon. Some scientists say that the moon is so rich in Helium 3 that it could solve the world’s energy problems for at least 10,000 years.

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Helium 3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It’s dumped upon the moon’s surface by solar winds, and is available in relative abundance. Two fully-loaded space shuttle cargo bays filled with the material (about 40 tons) could power the United States for an entire year at the current rate of energy consumption. This would require mining an area on the moon the size of Washington DC. Helium 3 is rare on Earth because our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field prevent deposits from reaching the surface – but the moon doesn’t have this problem.

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Fabrizio Bozzato, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tamkan in Taiwan, recently wrote that Helium 3 could be extracted by heating lunar dust to around 600°C, before bringing it back to the Earth. He estimates that the gas has a potential economic value of $3 billion a ton, and according to experts in the US, the total estimated cost for fusion development, rocket development and starting lunar operations would be about $20 billion over two decades.

China has expressed an interest in mining of the moon for this substance, but the nation hasn’t set forth any concrete plans yet. If China does get Helium 3 from the moon, it insists it will be for the benefit of humanity. But given the absence of competitors in the endeavor, there is speculation that China would have a monopoly over the resource.

Via Daily Mail

Photos by NASA Apollo (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by NASA Apollo (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons