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A shortage of helium is causing delays in scientific research

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A technician walks past the lower cyclinder of the cryostat, which provides the high vacuum, ultra-cool environment for the vacuum vessel and the superconducting magnets during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor

TOPSHOT - A technician walks past the lower cyclinder of the cryostat, which provides the high vacuum, ultra-cool environment for the vacuum vessel and the superconducting magnets during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. - Thirty-five nations are collaborating in the ITER energy project aimed at mastering energy production from hydrogen fusion, as in the heart of the sun, a potential new source of carbon-free and non-polluting energy. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP) (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

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There’s at least one natural resource out there that’s completely finite on Earth: helium. And once we use it up, it’s gone for good.

The lighter-than-air gas is in especially short supply right now, thanks to the closure of a major domestic processing facility and disruptions at a couple of plants overseas.

That’s not just a problem for birthday balloons — a number of industries compete for the limited supply of helium: health care, manufacturing, the tech sector and scientific research.

But those researchers are often at the back of the helium line.

Note: This story was originally heard on “Marketplace.” You can read the web version here.

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