The richest deposit of rare earth elements (REE) in the United States is thought to be in Bokan Mountain, Alaska, an area which spans 19 square miles. The site contains Alaska’s only uranium mine and recent geological investigations by Ucore (the company that owns the land) indicate mineral deposits rich enough to mine commercially. Also, the Bokan Mountain mining area lies on the Pacific Ocean, allowing for easy access to marine transportation for the mined rare earth metals.
Since REE are used in many electronics, from cell phones to important military weapons (such as drones), there is a huge demand worldwide for these rare metals. China is by far the world’s leading producer, making the United States heavily dependent on China’s near monopoly. Currently, politicians such as Barack Obama have mainly tried to make demands of or reason with China rather than figuring out a sustainable way to extract REE from US soil.
In Alaska, politicians have taken a more proactive, sustainable stance. According to ucore.com, “The FY2013 (Alaska) Budget includes $2.7 million as part of a 3-year project (comprising $8.1 million in total) to obtain critical information in further researching and assessing Alaska’s rare earth element and strategic minerals potential”. As noted by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, “This budget is aimed at streamlining the state’s permitting processes.” While the major politicians in Washington may not be publically advocating REE mining on US soil, the decision to increase state funding for the investigation of REE mining feasibility is already a go.
Since Obama recently commented about REE without mentioning the apparent feasibility of mining on US soil, don’t be surprised if the republicans advise US mining efforts as a political scheme during the upcoming presidential election. But would it really be a scheme? Expanding REE mining on US soil will not only create jobs while injecting money into the US economy, but it would also reduce US dependence on overseas operations looking to clean up financially on their world monopoly.
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