Solution for: HELIUM’S FUTURE UP IN THE AIR

Answer Table

1. A 8. A
2. A 9. A
3. A 10. A
4. A 11. A
5. A 12. A
6. A 13. A
7. A 14. A

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Exam Review

HELIUM’S FUTURE UP IN THE AIR

A In recent years we have all been exposed to dire media reports concerning the
impending demise of global coal and oil reserves, but the depletion of another key non¬
renewable resource continues without receiving much press at all. Helium - an inert,
odourless, monatomic element known to lay people as the substance that makes
balloons float and voices squeak when inhaled - could be gone from this planet within a
generation.

B Helium itself is not rare; there is actually a plentiful supply of it in the cosmos. In
fact, 24 per cent of our galaxy’s elemental mass consists of helium, which makes it the
second most abundant element in our universe. Because of its lightness, however, most
helium vanished from our own planet many years ago. Consequently, only a miniscule
proportion - 0.00052%, to be exact - remains in earth’s atmosphere. Helium is the by¬
product of millennia of radioactive decay from the elements thorium and uranium. The
helium is mostly trapped in subterranean natural gas bunkers and commercially
extracted through a method known as fractional distillation.

C The loss of helium on Earth would affect society greatly. Defying the perception
of it as a novelty substance for parties and gimmicks, the element actually has many
vital applications in society. Probably the most well known commercial usage is in
airships and blimps (non-flammable helium replaced hydrogen as the lifting gas du jour
after the Hindenburg catastrophe in 1932, during which an airship burst into flames and
crashed to the ground killing some passengers and crew). But helium is also
instrumental in deep-sea diving, where it is blended with nitrogen to mitigate the dangers
of inhaling ordinary air under high pressure; as a cleaning agent for rocket engines; and,
in its most prevalent use, as a coolant for superconducting magnets in hospital MRI
(magnetic resonance imaging) scanners.

D The possibility of losing helium forever poses the threat of a real crisis because
its unique qualities are extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible to duplicate (certainly, no
biosynthetic ersatz product is close to approaching the point of feasibility for helium,
even as similar developments continue apace for oil and coal). Helium is even cheerfully
derided as a “loner” element since it does not adhere to other molecules like its cousin,
hydrogen. According to Dr. Lee Sobotka, helium is the “most noble of gases, meaning
it’s very stable and non-reactive for the most part ... it has a closed electronic

configuration, a very tightly bound atom. It is this coveting of its own electrons that
prevents combination with other elements’. Another important attribute is helium’s
unique boiling point, which is lower than that for any other element. The worsening
global shortage could render millions of dollars of high-value, life-saving equipment
totally useless. The dwindling supplies have already resulted in the postponement of
research and development projects in physics laboratories and manufacturing plants
around the world. There is an enormous supply and demand imbalance partly brought
about by the expansion of high-tech manufacturing in Asia.

E The source of the problem is the Helium Privatisation Act (HPA), an American
law passed in 1996 that requires the U.S. National Helium Reserve to liquidate its helium
assets by 2015 regardless of the market price. Although intended to settle the original
cost of the reserve by a U.S. Congress ignorant of its ramifications, the result of this fire
sale is that global helium prices are so artificially deflated that few can be bothered
recycling the substance or using it judiciously. Deflated values also mean that natural
gas extractors see no reason to capture helium. Much is lost in the process of extraction.
As Sobotka notes: "[t]he government had the good vision to store helium, and the
question now is: Will the corporations have the vision to capture it when extracting
natural gas, and consumers the wisdom to recycle? This takes long-term vision because
present market forces are not sufficient to compel prudent practice”. For Nobel-prize
laureate Robert Richardson, the U.S. government must be prevailed upon to repeal its
privatisation policy as the country supplies over 80 per cent of global helium, mostly from
the National Helium Reserve. For Richardson, a twenty- to fifty-fold increase in prices
would provide incentives to recycle.

F A number of steps need to be taken in order to avert a costly predicament in the
coming decades. Firstly, all existing supplies of helium ought to be conserved and
released only by permit, with medical uses receiving precedence over other commercial
or recreational demands. Secondly, conservation should be obligatory and enforced by a
regulatory agency. At the moment some users, such as hospitals, tend to recycle
diligently while others, such as NASA, squander massive amounts of helium. Lastly,
research into alternatives to helium must begin in earnest.

Questions 1-5

Reading Passage 3 has six paragraphs, A-F.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A-F, in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet.

1    a use for helium which makes an activity safer
Answer: A

2    the possibility of creating an alternative to helium
Answer: A

3    a term which describes the process of how helium is taken out of the ground
Answer: A

4    a reason why users of helium do not make efforts to conserve it
Answer: A

5    a contrast between helium’s chemical properties and how non-scientists think
Answer: A
about it

Questions 6-9

Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading Passage 3?
In boxes 6-9 on your answer sheet, write

YES    if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer

NO    if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer

NOT GIVEN    if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

6    Helium chooses to be on its own.
Answer: A

7    Helium is a very cold substance.
Answer: A

8    High-tech industries in Asia use more helium than laboratories and manufacturers
in other parts of the world.
Answer: A

9    The US Congress understood the possible consequences of the HPA.
Answer: A

Questions 10-14

Complete the summary below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 10-14 on your answer sheet.

Sobotka argues that big business and users of helium need to help look after helium

stocks because 10  will not be encouraged through buying and selling

alone. Richardson believes that the 11  needs to be withdrawn, as the

U.S. provides most of the world’s helium. He argues that higher costs would mean
people have

12  to use the resource many times over.

People should need a 13  to access helium that we still have.

Furthermore, a 14  should ensure that helium is used carefully.


10. Answer: A


11. Answer: A


12. Answer: A


13. Answer: A


14. Answer: A

1 Triune = three-in-one

2 Lobotomy = surgical cutting of brain nerves

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