China’s Quest For A New Energy Source Heads To Space

No country had successfully completed a soft landing on the moon since the Soviet Union in 1976, which is why eyebrows were raised when China’s rover Jade Rabbit landed on the lunar surface this past weekend. While China’s motives for space exploration are not clear and the Chinese government is keeping quiet, their interest is expected to be in the substance that lies both above and below the moon’s surface: helium-3. Helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium that is nearly nonexistent on Earth, yet abundant on the moon, and has long been considered the missing piece needed to create fusion power. Scientists deem fusion power to be a potential game-changing source of energy. Helium-3 has a higher efficiency of conversion to electricity than fission, at a rate of 60-70%, and can produce energy with little to no radioactive waste. Another upside of fusion power according to Gerald L. Kulcinski, associate dean of research of college of engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the amount of energy it can produce. He estimates there is 10 times more energy in helium-3 on the moon than in all the natural gas, oil, and coal on the Earth combined. “Forty tons of helium-3 would provide all the electricity for the U.S. in 2014,” Kulcinski explained.

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