Nuclear Fusion's Gold on the Surface of the Moon

Turns out that India is going to the moon, in order to mine Helium 3. This comes on the heals of China landing a probe on the dark side of the moon. Interesting times.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 space probe will also land on the lunar surface. One of its goals is to locate deposits of helium-3 that are worth trillions of dollars, because it could be a fuel for nuclear fusion energy to generate electricity or propel a rocket.

Turns out that Helium-3 might make nuclear fusion viable much sooner than we once thought.

Researchers operating fusion reactor experiments at MIT, along with partnered scientists in Brussels and the U.K., have developed a new type of nuclear fusion fuel that produces ten times as much energy from energized ions as previously achieved.

The key to increasing the efficiency of the nuclear fuel was to add in trace amounts of helium-3, a stable isotope of helium that only has one neutron rather than two.

This is pretty exciting for several reasons. It is exciting to see Asia taking a leading role, and I’m the advances in nuclear fusion are exciting too. Maybe we will see a gold rush on the moon?

@physicists (1) why does Helium-3 helps fusion so much? (2) why is there so much helium-3 on the moon?


One of many problems associated with using helium-3 to create energy via nuclear fusion is that, at least on the Earth, helium-3 is very, very rare indeed. Helium-3 is produced as a by-product of the maintenance of nuclear weapons, which could net a supply of around 15Kg a year. Helium-3 is, however, emitted by the Sun within its solar winds. Our atmosphere prevents any of this helium-3 arriving on the Earth. However, as it does not have an atmosphere, there is nothing to stop helium-3 arriving on the surface of the Moon and being absorbed by the lunar soil. As a result, it has been estimated that there are around 1,100,000 metric tonnes of helium-3 on the surface of the Moon down to a depth of a few metres. This helium-3 could potentially be extracted by heating the lunar dust to around 600 degrees C, before bringing it back to the Earth to fuel a new generation of nuclear fusion power plants.

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At current prices for ^3He that doesn’t seem cost effective, but then demand for power generation could drive that price … to the moon!

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I am a bigger fan of fissible materials which are much easier to get energy from. Newer fission technologies could seriously reduce both risk and waste. Fusion power has been 20 years away for the last 75 years, and that trend looks like it will continue.