Vocabulary from Reading passage: 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 percent 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.

    • Minuscule: adjective; Extremely small
    • Telugu meaning: హ్రస్వదృష్టి గల
    • Ersatz: adjective; Used instead of something else
    • Telugu meaning: అసందర్భం
    • Recycle: verb; To use again for a different purpose
    • Telugu meaning: పునర్వినియోగం
    • Depletion: noun; A reduction in something
    • Telugu meaning: క్షీణత
    • Feasibility: noun; The possibility that can be made
    • Telugu meaning: సాధ్యత, సాధ్యము
    • Deflate: verb; To cause something to become weaker
    • Telugu meaning: ద్రవ్య విలువను
    • Gimmick: noun; Something that is not serious or of real value that is used to attract people’s attention or interest temporarily, especially to make them buy something.
    • Telugu meaning: ప్రజలలో ప్రచారం పొందటానికి అనుసరించే చిట్కా
    • Recreational: Connected with ways of enjoying yourself when you are not working.
    • Telugu meaning: వినోదం
    • Imbalance: noun; A situation in which two things that should be equal or that are normally equal are not.
    • Telugu meaning: అసమతుల్యత
    • Distillation: noun; The process of heating a liquid until it becomes a gas, then making it liquid again by cooling.
    • Telugu meaning: కాచి వడబోయుట
    • Configuration: noun;  The particular arrangement or pattern of a group of related things.
    • Telugu meaning: అమరిక
    • Resonance: noun;  The quality of being loud and clear.
    • Telugu meaning: ప్రతిధ్వని
    • Ramifications: noun; The possible results of an action.
    • Telugu meaning: పర్యవసానము, శాఖలు
    • Inhale: verb;  To breathe air or gas into your lungs.
    • Telugu meaning: పీల్చుట
    • Obligatory: adjective; (of an action) expected, esp., because it is what most people do.
    • Telugu meaning: విధిగా
    • Cosmos: noun; The universe considered as a system with order and pattern.
    • Telugu meaning: సంపూర్ణమైన వ్యవస్థ, సృష్టి .
    • Radioactive: adjective; Having or producing the energy that comes from the breaking up of atoms.
    • Telugu meaning: రేడియోధార్మిక , స్వయం విభజన శక్తి
    • Apace: adverb; : Quickly
    • Telugu meaning: వడివడిగా
    • Demise: noun; The end of the operation or existence of something.
    • Telugu meaning: అంతము, మరణము
    • Liquidate: verb; To cause a business to close, so that its assets can be sold to pay its debts.
    • Telugu meaning: అమ్మివేయడం, చెల్లించు
    • Extraction: noun;  The process of removing something, especially by force
    • Telugu meaning: వెలికితీత
    • Inert: adjective; Not reacting chemically with other substances. Not moving or not able to move. Not energetic or interesting.
    • Telugu meaning: జడము
    • Predicament: noun; An unpleasant situation that is difficult to get out of or solve.
    • Telugu meaning: సంకటమైన స్థితి
    • Precedence: noun; The condition of being dealt with before other things or of being considered more important  than other things.
    • Telugu meaning: ప్రాధాన్యత
    • Squander: verb; To waste money or supplies, or to waste opportunities by not using them to your advantage.
    • Telugu meaning: వృధా వ్యయం చేయు
    • Millennium: noun;  A period of 1,000 years or the time when a period of 1,000 years ends.
    • Telugu meaning: సహస్రాబ్ది
    • Subterranian: adjective; Under the ground.
    • Telugu meaning: భూగర్భం
    • Galaxy: noun; One of the independent groups of stars in the universe.
    • Telugu meaning: నక్షత్ర మండలము
    • Diligently: adverb;; In a way that is careful and uses a lot of effort.
    • Telugu meaning: జాగరూకతతో
    • Regulatory: adjective; of or relating to a person or organisation whose job is to control an activity or process.
    • Telugu meaning: నియంత్రణ
    • Instrumental: adjective; Important in causing something to happen.
    • Telugu meaning: సాధనంగా వుండు, కరణకారకం  
    • Prevalent: adjective; Existing very commonly or happening often
    • Telugu meaning: ప్రబలంగా
    • Conservation: noun;  Carefully using valuable natural resources that exist in limited amounts in order to make certain that they will be available for as long a time as possible.
    • Telugu meaning: పరిరక్షణ
    • Unique: adjective; Being the only existing one of its type or, more generally, unusual or special in some way
    • Telugu meaning: విభిన్నంగా
    • Mitigate: Verb : To make something less harmful, unpleasant, or bad.
    • Telugu meaning: ఉపశమింప, తీవ్రతను తగ్గించు  
    • Impending: adjective; Used to refer to an event, usually something unpleasant or unwanted that is going to happen soon.
    • Telugu meaning: రాబోయే
    • Covet: verb; To want to have something very much, especially something that belongs to someone else.
    • Telugu meaning: ఇతరుల వస్తువులపై ఆశ పడుట
    • Dire: adjective; Very serious or extreme.
    • Telugu meaning: అత్యవసరమైన, భయంకరమైన
    • Enforced: verb; To make people obey a law, or to make a particular situation happen or be accepted
    • Telugu meaning: అమలుపరచబడిన
    • Repeal: noun; the act of removing the legal force of law.
    • Telugu meaning: ఉపసంహరించుకొను, పని లేకుండా వదిలించుకొను
    • Deride: verb; To laugh at someone or something in a way that shows you think they are stupid or of no value.
    • Telugu meaning: వెక్కిరించు
    • Judicious: adjective; Having or showing reason and good judgement in making decisions.
    • Telugu meaning: న్యాయపరమైన
    • Catastrophe: noun; A sudden event that causes very great trouble or destruction.
    • Telugu meaning: విపత్తు
    • Novelty: noun; Something that has not been experienced before and so is interesting.
    • Telugu meaning: కొత్తదనం
    • Upbeat: adjective; Full of hope, happiness, and good feelings.
    • Telugu meaning: ఆశావహం
    • Perception: noun; A brief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem.
    • Telugu meaning: అవగాహన
    • Avert: verb; To prevent something bad from happening.
    • Telugu meaning: తప్పించడానికి
    • Adhere: verb; To stick firmly.
    • Telugu meaning: కట్టుబడి
    • Defy: verb; To refuse to obey a person, decision, law, situation, etc.
    • Telugu meaning: అంగీకరించని
    • Prudent: adjective; Careful and avoiding risks.
    • Telugu meaning: వివేకం
    • Crew: noun; A group of people who work together, especially all those who work on and operate a ship, aircraft etc.
    • Telugu meaning: విమానం, రైలు మొదలైన వాటిని నడిపేందుకు పనిచేసే సిబ్బంది
    • Compel: verb; To force someone to do something.
    • Telugu meaning: బలవంతపెట్టు
    • Earnest: adjective; Serious and determined, especially too serious and unable to find your own actions funny.
    • Telugu meaning: అతి అవశ్యకమైన
    • Squeak: noun; A short,  very high cry or sound.
    • Telugu meaning: కీచుమని అరుచుట

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