Would you pay $100 for a helium balloon? That’s how much it’s worth, and if we keep selling helium at “ridiculously cheap” prices, we’ll deplete the world’s supply within a generation, Nobel laureate and physics professor Robert Richardson tells the Independent. That’s a pretty bad thing, because in addition to making your voice sound funny, helium is used in airships, MRI scanners, nuclear reactors, rockets, and other items that are arguably more important than party balloons.
The US began building up its reserve of helium (an element which, by the way, cannot be manufactured artificially), now the largest reserve in the world, in 1925. In 1996, a law passed requiring all that helium to be sold off by 2015, in part to help pay off the government’s original investment. Today's prices are seen as “far too cheap” by experts. The result? Helium is so inexpensive, no one—including NASA—bothers to recycle it. We could run out within 25 to 30 years if we don’t raise its price 20 to 50 times, says Richardson.