Helium has long been the subject of public policy deliberation and management, largely because of its many strategic uses and its unusual source-it is a derived product of natural gas and its market has several anomalous characteristics. Shortly after sources of helium were discovered at the beginning of the last century, the U.S. government recognized helium's potential importance to the nation's interests and placed its production and availability under strict governmental control. In the 1960s, helium's strategic value in cold war efforts was reflected in policies that resulted in the accumulation of a large reserve of helium owned by the federal government. The latest manifestation of public policy is expressed in the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (1996 12 Act), which directs that substantially all of the helium accumulated as a result of those earlier policies be sold off by 2015 at prices sufficient to repay the federal government for its outlays associated with the helium program.
The present volume assesses whether the interests of the United States have been well served by the 1996 Act and, in particular, whether selling off the helium reserve has had any adverse effect on U.S. scientific, technical, biomedical, and national security users of helium.