The US government’s DHS is to ask Linde Electronics to extract and store helium-3 gas. The gas is used as a neutron detection component for radiation detection devices, which is currently in short supply.

To address the chronic shortage of helium-3 gas, which is widely used as a neutron detection component for radiation detection devices, a DHS agency plans to sign a sole source procurement with Linde Electronics and Specialty Gases, of Stewartsville in North Carolina, to extract from existing tubes and store Helium-3 gas for future use in detection devices.

“The vendor will need to place the 3He tube’s bar codes into a data base, puncture the tube in a special chamber to capture the 3He gas and not introduce contamination, measure the pressure, estimate the quantity of gas, extract the 3He gas, remove impurities, validate the gas can be used for 3He detectors, place into a separate storage cylinder, and ship to tube manufacturers or store the gas in the DHS storage cylinders that already exist at Linde Electronics & Specialty Gases,” explains a presolicitation notice published by the DHS on August 13.

DHS believes that Linde is the only vendor capable of handling such an extraction effort.

The shortage in the nation’s supply of Helium-3 was described last month in congressional testimony offered by Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) Acting Director Dr. Huban Gowadia to a House Homeland Security subcommittee on infrastructure protection and security technologies.

“Years before the recent helium-3 shortage, DNDO was already exploring options for better, more cost-effective, alternatives for neutron detection. DNDO’s transformational and applied research efforts included fourteen different technologies that could be used instead of helium-3 tubes, including those based on boron or lithium,” said Gowadia.

“As a result of DNDO’s efforts, alternative neutron detection technologies are now commercially available and large quantities of helium-3 will no longer be necessary for use in RPMs [radiation portal monitors]. Importantly, due to a collaborative, USG-wide effort to address the shortfall, our US strategic reserve of helium-3 has increased by 40 percent since 2009,” Gowadia told the congressional subcommittee.