An earmark to protect rare earth element mines and bills to promote access to molybdenum-99 isotopes show a growing concern in Congress over the dearth of domestic access to mineral resources.
The shortage of rare earth minerals prompted Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) to add an earmark to the House Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 3326) for $3 million to help reopen a California rare earth mine [NB - I have to believe this is Molycorp's Mountain Pass Mine - LA]. According to Lewis the controversial funds were necessary for Molycorp Minerals, owned in part by Goldman Sachs, to quell national security concerns. This appropriations bill is still awaiting conference committee approval. [right, projected gap in RE supply and demand. Credit, Molycorp]
Rare earth minerals have seen their value balloon in recent years, thanks to their utilization in high technology military devices and renewable energy applications like hybrid batteries and wind turbines. The growing interest in supply stems from progressively tighter restrictions on export from China, the world’s single dominant producer. China controls the vast majority of supply for all 17 rare earth elements, including up to 99 percent for some elements such as Terbium. After four years of decreasing permits for export, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has reportedly submitted a recommendation to the Chinese administration to further tighten exports. Amid global concern though, MITT responded that a ban would never be enforced.
On a different, but related issue, there is growing concern in the U.S. about the supply of the isotope, molybdenum-99, which is needed for medical imaging. The U.S. stopped production of the isotope, which is a fission product of highly purified uranium-235, partly out of concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation and partly out of concerns about nuclear waste disposal. Earlier this year, a reactor in Canada used to produce the isotope broke down, nearly crippling American supplies. The American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276) would promote developing U.S. production of the isotope, molybdenum-99, according to its sponsor, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), to ensure a stable and consistent supply of the isotope for cancer scans and brain imaging in American health care facilities.
The molybdenum isotope concern has also been addressed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2647) which became public law this month. In addition, H.R. 2647 requires the Defense Science Board to study and report on the extent to which military capabilities are impacted by supplies and the potential shortage of rare earth minerals.
The full text of H.R. 3326 is available from Thomas:
The full text of H.R. 3276 is available from Thomas:
The full text of H.R. 2647 is available from Thomas:
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