Some Essential Reading on Strategic Minerals.

Author:Magnuson, Stew
Position:Editor's Notes

* It's not often that a report produced by the U.S. Geological Survey should be of note for those in the defense world.

Late in December, and to little fanfare, the Department of Interior and USGS released "Critical Mineral Resources of the United States: Economic and Environmental Geology and Prospects for Future Supply."

This is the first U.S. government-produced comprehensive report on strategic minerals since 1973. The authors of the introduction don't just state the merely obvious--but the incredibly obvious--when they said there have been many changes since then. No kidding!

As the report notes, until around the 1950s, only about 15 metallic elements on the periodic table had any practical use. Today, just about every element on the table, metallic or not, has some important purpose in U.S. industry including national security programs.

"For example, the manufacture of a modern computer chip requires more than one-half of the elements in the periodic table. Even though many of the elements may be present in only small amounts, each is essential to the function and performance of the chip," the report noted.

The problem is that the United States doesn't always have an assured supply of these critical elements. The report covers 23 mineral commodities viewed as vital to the national economy and national security.

For a number of these commodities--graphite, manganese, niobium and tantalum--the United States is currently wholly dependent on imports to meet its needs, it said.

It would be cheeky to say, "National Defense read the report so you don't have to." It arrived at a whopping 863 pages. However, the better part of a day was spent skimming its pages looking for facts pertinent to the magazine's readers.

Here are some headlines for a few of the essential minerals used in national security technologies.

Rare-Earth Elements. It was about seven years ago when contributors to this magazine sounded the alarm about rare-earth elements and China's near monopoly producing this category of minerals.

The elements are used in an increasing number of renewable energy and military products and new applications are being discovered, the report said.

The attention in the media decrying China stockpiling and imposing export quotas on the elements did prompt some new mining ventures and one idle mine in California to resume production for about four years. It went idle again, unfortunately. There are about nine other potential U.S. sites, but low...

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