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THE MOON'S A BALLOON; Gas find is a power source.

THE MOON is full of a rare helium gas that could fuel the clean nuclear reactors of 20 years in the future.

Scientists believe they have found vast areas of Helium-3 gas, and have drawn up maps to guide Moon prospectors.

Recent discoveries of water at the Moon's poles increase the chances of a base being built there in future.

Now the Helium-3 discovery means the Moon could provide mankind with another crucial resource.

In future, as the world's oil, gas and coal supplies dwindle, the Helium- 3 could be more valuable than gold or diamonds.

Helium-3, known in scientific circles as 3He, is rare on Earth. But it is critical to the fusion reaction that powers the Sun.

Helium-3 burns so fiercely that many scientists now believe that natural Ice Ages on Earth have been caused by a "total burn- up" of the gas in the Sun. These levels gradually build up again over the centuries as the cycle continues.

Scientists at the Joint European Torus project near Cambridge have been trying to develop a fusion reactor for several decades, and admit a result is still "about 20 years away."

The aim is to provide vast amounts of waste-free energy by creating temperatures hotter than the Sun.

Unlike nuclear fission, which powers nuclear stations at present and produces harmful waste, fusion is theoretically a clean reaction that leaves only a little ash.

JET scientist Jeff Cordey said: "We know the system works. We have achieved 16 mega-watts from here, about enough to power a small town. But it used up more fuel than we got out of it.

"Finding Helium-3 on the Moon opens up the prospect of bringing it back."

Dr Andrew Conway, an astronomer at Glasgow University, said fusion power was a futuristic resource.

"It is something for the 21st century to achieve. At the moment, it is too expensive for us to get up into space and bring these materials back.

"But it is expected to be the source of clean fuel for the future."
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McLEAN, JIM
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 3, 1998
Words:339
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