Can moon be the saviour of planet earth?

J. Devaprakash, Deputy General Manager, Tarapur Atomic Power Station, Maharastra

2022-08-19 17:58:45

Baffled humanity is set out to bring every possible solution as the world finds itself in the grip of climate crisis. Global warming and climate change are the greatest challenges of our time and mankind is trying hard to deal with it. But, climate crisis is not a sudden phenomenon that occurred in the recent past. Increase in the atmospheric heat and the change in climate are on the rise gradually for the past several decades, thanks to the constantly growing usage of fossil fuels.

Until 1972 when the United Nation’s scientific forum raised the climate change issue for the first time no one cared about how the environment was being degraded by humans. So, the first reason for climate crisis was ignorance. Without knowing the consequences of burning fossil fuels we began to enjoy its benefits. Despite the warning by UN to the governments across the globe, we continued to degrade the environment, rather amplified to much a higher scale. Once we tasted the fruits of fossil-fuel-based technologies, our demand increased manifold, because the kind of comfort we relished (like electric lights, fans, air-conditioner, industries, transport, electrical and electronic appliances, etc.) made us bring more technologies, machineries, and industries. Resultantly, the release of emission like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere began to disturb the climate system slowly for years. And as emission increased, its impact on environment too exacerbated gradually. Therefore, the second reason for climate change was our deliberate neglect.

As a consequence, not just humanity but the entire planet is facing the rage of Mother nature: unusual increase in the earth’s surface temperature, erratic weather, melting of glaciers, rise in the sea level, increased forest fire, intense heat waves, drought, flood, extinction of species and so on.

Energy generation, particularly electricity and heat production, is regarded as one of the major causes for global warming. The green house gases, which are emitted during the burning of fossil fuels, account for over one fourth of global emissions. Similarly, transportation and industries are also greatly contributing to temperature raise. If such emissions are controlled or curbed the rise in earth’s surface temperature can also be held in. In other words, we need to completely shift from the method of combusting fossil fuels for energy and transport to a new way that will help meet our energy requirements without any green house gas emissions. Having realised the on-going graveness, nations across the world are gradually switching their energy productions into a greener ways: wind, solar and nuclear are the major among them. Against the popular belief that wind and solar energy alone can power the world, these intermittent sources are not the baseload power production units – means, they cannot generate electricity for 24 by 7 and thus are unreliable. Therefore, the focus of the world is narrowing down towards nuclear power technologies that can offer reliable green power to humanity. Presently, about 11 percent of the world’s energy generation comes from nuclear. But, as we saw earlier, a huge change is needed to electrify nations without harming the nature. As the hope on fossil fuel is shrinking due to emissions and reserves saturation, the hope on nuclear technology is unfolding.

According to a research paper by Harrison H. Schmitt the energy demand of the world may be nine-fold or higher by 2050. But, is there any such means that can provide a solution to our massive energy requirements without harming the environment? Yes, there is. Not on earth but on moon. Helium-3 (3He), an isotope of helium with one neutron and two protons, has the potential to solve the twin problems of planet earth: climate crisis and ever rising energy demand. Discovered in 1939, Helium-3 occurs as a primordial nuclide which is getting off from earth’s crust into outer space over millions of years.

However, Helium-3 is rare on earth. It is just about 0.0001% of the helium, a gas used to inflate balloons, on earth. But this light and stable isotope is exuberant on moon. According to estimates, over 11 lakh metric tons of Helium-3 can be found on the surface of moon. This element which is the only stable isotope, other than hydrogen, with more protons than neutrons, is an ideal fuel for the fusion reactors. When combining Helium-3 with deuterium, 18.4 million electron volt kinetic energy gets generated. One of the significant characteristics of Helium-3 is that, when fused, its atoms release a large amount of energy without any radioactive substances. The scientific fraternity across the world without dissent tout Helium-3 as a great source for energy generation as it promises nuclear power without nuclear waste – a pure fusion.

Since World War II many nations have been striving hard to develop controlled thermonuclear fusion technology for electricity generation. Using laboratory electrostatic research reactors Helium-3 fusion (controlled reaction) has been demonstrated successfully many a times. Though experiments opened up the possibility of nuclear fusion and the world is close to achieve success in brining fusion reactors, using Helium-3 in fusion reactors remains only at research level. There are two reasons for that: One, the scant availability of Helium-3 on earth and the challenges of mining and brining Helium-3 from moon. But, as spacemen believe, Helium-3 is a major reason that exhilarates humankind to land on moon again and again. With substantial technical advancements, world scientists are of the view that it won’t take too longer to mine and transport the lunar Helium-3. According to Harrison, the key researcher of a research paper “Lunar Helium-3 Fusion Resource Distribution”, mining of Helium-3 from moon’s surface is relatively less arduous compared to the mining and processing of raw materials on earth. And since man landed on moon for the first time in 1969, several manned lunar missions have been accomplished successfully worldwide. Therefore, transporting of lunar Helium-3 may not be a great difficulty.

Once the supply of Helium-3 from moon becomes regular, emission-free power generation is expected to pick pace. According to nuclear scientists, there are two ways to generate electricity using 3He. One is combining Helium-3 and Deuterium for controlled fusion power, and the second is fusing Helium-3 with itself. The former approach is capable of providing 18.4 million electron volt kinetic energy while the latter 12.9. Comparatively, in the second approach literally there is no radioactive waste generation as it involves almost zero neutron production.

Given the merits – abundance, higher energy conversion efficiency, very low or no radioactive waste generation, no pollution, low cooling water requirement, smaller size plant, lower capital and operating cost – Helium-3 fusion power can offer reliable energy to humankind for centuries and can save the earth from climate crisis.


Schmitt.H. Harisson et all. Lunar Helium-3 Fusion Resource Distribution