Rare earth elements: Alaska may fuel future development.

Author:Jaeger, Stephanie
Position:SPECIAL SECTION: MINING
 
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In our modern world, rare earth elements are found all around us. They are in our cell phones, DVDs, computers, rechargeable batteries, lasers and MRI scanners. REEs are a crucial component in modern military equipment such as night goggles, guidance systems, communications and precision-guided weapons. Yet, there is not a single rare earth element mine in operation in the United States. China, which produces more than 95 percent of the world's REEs, is drastically reducing exports. Without our own supply of REEs, America's ability to be competitive at producing many high-tech instruments and alternative-energy devices such as hybrid vehicles and wind turbines will be seriously compromised. Development of Alaska's Bokan-Dotson Ridge REE property and new discoveries resulting from the exploration of more than 70 mineral occurrences with reported REEs in Alaska may provide an answer to this dilemma.

RARE EARTH ELEMENTS

The group of metals commonly referred to as rare earth elements includes 17 little known elements such as lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, europium, dysprosium and gadolinium. Rare earth elements are not really that rare. They occur in many places in nature. You might have tiny amounts of them in your backyard. What makes them rare is that they are usually found in very small quantities and not in large deposits such as coal or oil. They are also rare because they are difficult to extract from their naturally occurring ore minerals and from one another. Only in the late 1950s and early 1960s were procedures developed to extract these minerals in quantities large enough to use in industry. These procedures are difficult and time consuming and make REEs much more expensive than other minerals.

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The battery in a Toyota Prius contains 20 pounds of the REE lanthanum. A large wind turbine may have a battery that contains 500 pounds of the REE neodymium. The red color in TV screens comes from europium and the catalytic converter in your car's exhaust system contains cerium and lanthanum.

Alaska possesses a significant number of REE deposits, but most of these have not been studied much. The two most well-characterized deposits are on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. UCore Rare Metals, a Canadian company, has begun exploration at the Bokan-Dotson Ridge REE project near the former Ross Adams uranium mine on Bokan Mountain. The project is 45 miles southwest of Ketchikan and has direct ocean...

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