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Alaska rare earth resource on international stage

Murkowski: Fight China REE dominance with domestic production By RUSSELL STIGALL

Posted: March 19, 2012 - 12:05am

As the heat turns up on China’s rare earth element policy, attention turns again to Southeast Alaska’s deposit of rare earth elements at Dotson Ridge Project near Bokan Mountain’s Ross Adam’s mine site on Prince of Wales Island and the 69 other rare earth sites peppered across Alaska. Dotson Ridge is blessed with an abundance of heavy rare earth minerals — the more rare and more expensive cousin to light rare earth elements.

Recently, President Obama announced the U.S. would bring a trade case against China — the industrial powerhouse currently dominates the world in rare earth mines and, importantly, refineries. Japan joined the case along with certain European allies, according to the President’s remark (1.usa.gov/FPmNnM). China’s market policies, Obama said, have stemmed the flow of rare earth metals used in the manufacture of current technology.

Murkowski responded, in a press release from March 13, that the answer was increased domestic development of rare earth mineral mines and refineries. The senator has introduced legislation that she has said allows designation of rare earth sites as critical to U.S. strategic interest — based on supply and importance — and would require a current assessment of U.S. rare earth resources.

“The president wants to sue the Chinese for something that we could — and should — be producing for ourselves,” Murkowski said in a press release. “All he has to do is look north to Alaska, which has already identified roughly 70 rare earth elements sites.”

Murkowski said her Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011, S. 1113, has languished in the Democratic majority-led Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Murkowski is the ranking member.

Murkowski has referred to Ucore Rare Metals’ Dotson Ridge as potentially such a site.

Contrary to the name, rare earth elements are found throughout the earth’s crust. However, the 17 elements it describes need to be in sufficient abundance, as with all mining, to warrant refinement. And rare earth elements are of quite similar make-up and require several steps of chemical refinement to separate the ore into scandium, yttrium, and the lanthanides.

That narrows it down some, but there are still many potentially viable rare earth deposits around the world and within Alaska, California and other U.S. states (usgs.gov). China’s inexpensive refinement process currently gives the country its supply dominance. For more information about Alaska’s rare earth resources visit 1.usa.gov/FPo0vb.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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