Who owns the moon?

20.02.12: JAPAN'S RIGHT to mine the moon for helium-3, the most valuable substance known to man, is being challenged.

UN lawyers are claiming that the moon and its mineral wealth "belongs to all of humanity" and that mining rights to helium-3 should be relinquished immediately. Japanese companies, which are in the process of accumulating a large stockpile of the "fusion fuel", are refusing and urging their government to withdraw from the UN.

In the absence of any legally binding agreement governing the mineral exploitation of the moon, large space companies have staked claims to regions of the lunar nearside which selenologists believe harbour commercially viable ore deposits. Space analysts are warning that if such an unregulated free-for-all is allowed to continue, it will almost certainly result in future lunar conflict.

Helium-3, the substance bringing the ownership of lunar mineral reserves to the fore, is the ideal fuel for the Artemis fusion reactor. Development of the Artemis plant is being overseen by Hiromu Momata, professor of nuclear engineering at the National Institute of Fusion Science in Nagoya.

In theory, by exploiting deuterium-helium-3 fusion, a process that generates no surplus neutrons, Artemis should produce up to 80% less radioactive waste than a conventional deuterium-tritium fusion reactor.

Helium-3 is rare on earth but relatively common on the lunar surface. By mining the gas from its repository in lunar titanium-containing minerals, principally ilmenite, the Japanese are hoping to bring down the cost of helium-3 from $7.7m to $1m per kilo.

The lunar environmental protection group, Greypeace, is urging consumers to boycott Japanese goods. MC