Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Businesses Earth Technology

California Rare-Earth Mine Reopens 244

Posted by kdawson
from the antimony-arsenic dept.
burnin1965 writes in to let us know that the looming crisis in rare-earth materials (which we have discussed recently) has prompted Molycorp, the erstwhile operator of a California mine closed in 2002, to announce plans to reopen it. "With increasing prices on rare earth ore, tariffs raised by the Chinese government, and the threat of embargoes that would damage United States high-tech manufacturing Molycorp now has the needed incentive to reopen the California Mountain Pass mine. They will spend the capital needed to implement badly needed updates to environmental controls that will mitigate the radioactive waste water releases that plagued the mine in the past. Chinese imports in the 90s nearly halved ore prices and the California mine experienced multiple failures in environmental controls that resulted in the release of huge volumes of radioactive waste water. Updating the mine to address the environmental issues was not financially viable due to the cheap Chinese imports so it was closed in 2002." Within two years the mine could be producing 20% of the amount of rare earths we import from China.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

California Rare-Earth Mine Reopens

Comments Filter:
  • by arcite (661011) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:23PM (#34677806)
    The more we mine them, the less rare they will be. Doesn't this defeat the purpose? .... ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Palmsie (1550787)

      Rare earth materials are actually quite common, despite their name. Some of them are actually more common than lead or nitrogen.

      • by haruchai (17472)

        Lead, perhaps but Nitrogen? It's 80% of the atmosphere. That would be one huge pile of rare earth.

        • by lyml (1200795)
          mass of athmosphere = 5*10^18 kg Nitrogen in atmosphere = 80% by volume
          Oxygen in atmosphere = 20% by volume
          Atomic mass of N2 = 28 u
          Atomic mass of O2 = 36 u
          mass of Nitrogen in atmosphere = (28*4)/(28*4+36)*5*10^18 = 3.8*10^18 kg
          Earth mass = 6*10^24 kg

          Amount of Earth mass that is Nitrogen in atmosphere = 3.8*10^18/(6*10^24) = 0.6 ppm

          That means anything that is more common than 0.6 ppm of the earth would be more common than the nitrogen (in the atmosphere at least, I have no idea how common nitrogen
          • by haruchai (17472)

            I think we're both wrong in our calculations. For one, mineral / element abundance is calculated for the Earth's crust but you're using the weight of the entire planet so your ppm figures for Nitrogen are very low.

            From what I've found, N2 in the crust is only in trace amounts but it's found in 0.5 ppm in seawater.
            I can't find numbers for mass of crust, however but I did find that it's volume is only 1% of planetary total.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've always preferred my Earth Material medium-rare.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by jensend (71114)

      No. The only way to make rare earths less rare is to make more earths, duh. Among other things, the cost of shipping a whole factory-built planet to the nearest Sol-like stars and the loud-mouthed protests of tree-huggers whining about resource depletion (jeez, it's not like anybody else was USING every little yottagram of that feldspar anyway) tend to discourage this.

      On a side note: at least the FedEx guy could be a little more POLITE in telling me they don't ship to Tau Ceti. Sheesh. And just FYI, the USP

    • by demonbug (309515)

      The more we mine them, the less rare they will be. Doesn't this defeat the purpose? .... ;)

      Not if we don't overcook them.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:31PM (#34677876)

    Despite the story's GO AMERICA slant, a lot of material is going straight to Japan, where most of it is consumed in the first place. Like to Hitachi: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6BK5PL20101221 [reuters.com]

    Oh look. They also signed deals with Sumitomo and Mitsubishi: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/business/T101219002181.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]

    They got huge piles of cash from Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi...which is why it's hilarious to hear the CEO of Molycorp waving American flags in various quotes. Oh, and Molycorp's stock has shot up since their IPO in July: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-07-28/molycorp-s-ipo-aims-at-chinese-grip-on-smart-bombs.html [businessweek.com]

    Also, how interesting that the EPA announces cleanup plan of Molycorp site just a few days ago: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=12460111 [go.com]

    The EPA said contaminated material from the Molycorp site includes about 328 million tons of acid-generating waste rock, more than 100 million tons of tailings and acid-rock drainage at the mine and seepage at the tailings facility.

    Anyone want to place bets on whether or not the US government will press environmental regulations on Molycorp this time, now that national security interests are involved?

    • by Spoke (6112) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:44PM (#34677962)

      Uh, how is exporting raw materials (many of which will end up in electronics back on our shores) bad for America?

      Sure, it would be better if those materials were used in local manufacturing facilities, but opening a source of those raw materials will make it more financially viable to do so.

      • by vux984 (928602)

        Uh, how is exporting raw materials (many of which will end up in electronics back on our shores) bad for America?

        Who said it was bad for America?

        ure, it would be better if those materials were used in local manufacturing facilities, but opening a source of those raw materials will make it more financially viable to do so.

        Agreed. But lets not put the celebrations ahead of the victory. The company press released is something of a "Mission Accomplished" moment, and that is what is being poked fun at.

        • by Spoke (6112)

          Who said it was bad for America?

          The GP said:

          which is why it's hilarious to hear the CEO of Molycorp waving American flags in various quotes

          Seemed to me that he was implying that opening these mines in the USA is only good for the Japanese companies funding the project and bad for the USA who is stuck with the cleanup costs.

          Any substantial investment into the USA is a good reason to wave the flag, especially in a state with 12.5% unemployment.

          • by vux984 (928602)

            Any substantial investment into the USA is a good reason to wave the flag, especially in a state with 12.5% unemployment.

            Agreed. But its not "Mission Accomplished".

            And in many respects it parallels AmericanCorporationX opening a textiles plant in unnamed 3rd world high-unemployment country. Yay! Jobs for the unemployed is good... but long term, is it even a step in the right direction for unnamed 3rd world country?

            • by khallow (566160)

              And in many respects it parallels AmericanCorporationX opening a textiles plant in unnamed 3rd world high-unemployment country. Yay! Jobs for the unemployed is good... but long term, is it even a step in the right direction for unnamed 3rd world country?

              Why wouldn't it be? AmericanCorporationX pays more and has better working conditions than the local businesses. So it improves the standard of living and generates wealth for unnamed 3rd world country.

              • by vux984 (928602)

                Why wouldn't it be? AmericanCorporationX pays more and has better working conditions than the local businesses. So it improves the standard of living and generates wealth for unnamed 3rd world country.

                There is a reason we call it exploitation.

    • by demonbug (309515)

      Anyone want to place bets on whether or not the US government will press environmental regulations on Molycorp this time, now that national security interests are involved?

      Not really; but if they have issues and US EPA won't go after them, you can be sure Cal EPA will.

      Of course, then you would just have a bunch of right-wing bloggers screaming, "Why does California hate America???" but that isn't exactly new.

    • Considering the mutual hatred the Japanese and Chinese share toward each other, it's not surprising that the Japanese would want to buy rare earths from us rather than the Chinese. In my narrow view of economics, any time we can export something it's a plus. Our trade deficit hasn't exactly been ideal lately.
      • by zippthorne (748122) on Monday December 27, 2010 @02:04PM (#34678186) Journal

        That's too narrow. (or maybe not narrow enough?)

        Equitable trade is mutually beneficial.

        Being a net exporter means that you lose all your stuff and get a wad of IOUs of uncertain value (inflation, for instance, kills the value of your holdings)

        Being a net importer means you incur debt, but get all the wonderful stuff.

        Neither of which is particularly healthy, and certainly can't possibly be sustainable in the long term. Think about it: China's status as the world's provider of cheaply manufactured goods means that their own citizens are not benefiting from that massive industrial capacity as much as they could be, and they're sure as hell not benefitting from that capacity if the import side of that is money or ownership stakes in foreign countries, and not, y'know, stuff.

        • If I could, I would grant you points. Consider what we import from Japan versus what we export to them. It is balanced in their favor at the moment.
        • by Sleepy (4551)

          China's status as the world's provider of cheaply manufactured goods means that their own citizens are not benefiting from that massive industrial capacity as much as they could be

          China's status as the world's largest manufacturer - and soon the world's highest-tech manufacturer - plus all those IOUs they own means that they will be able to do whatever the hell they want. China's not interested in raising their standard of living too fast, if it means that a huge disparity exists between the poor and the really dirt-poor. China doesn't want the manufacturing to race to the next developing nation, and it's big enough that they know there will always be suitable numbers of desperate un

    • by DCFusor (1763438) on Monday December 27, 2010 @01:59PM (#34678142) Homepage
      No, it's not all going to Japan, just some. A lot of the Japanese companies are going to use this stuff *here* and might as well, because many of them manufacture little things like cars, um, here to sell to us. Molycorp is going mine-to-magnet right here, and that's where the value added is. I'm glad of it, having bought quite a lot of their stock when it was priced about half what it is today...yum. (I trade for a living, and this has been one of the good trades this year).

      RE mining has been an environmental problem for a long time. For whatever reason, the RE ores always seem to have a lot of thorium in them also -- there's your radioactive issue, and why we don't just refine and use that too, I'm clueless, as the price of uranium is also doing well (and I own stock in that too that is also doing well). As the Indians know, it's part of a useful fuel cycle as it can be bred into fissile fuel just like U238 can be. The other issue with RE's is that most of them are so chemically similar that they can be real tough to get apart into the individual RE metals. GM and others have done some work on making pretty good magnets with "what you get" rather than what you'd have in a perfect world, slightly reduced performance compared to perfect, but far lower costs at a few stages of the process.

      At the instant of this writing, MCP is up 10.2% *in one day* which is about a usual annual return from the stock markets. REMX, an ETF that tracks RE's is only up 0.87%. No guts, no glory. I don't know about the other bucks for sure, but the profits trading on MCP are going to this redneck engineer American to be spent here. I'm sure like any news driven stock, that it will either go back down, or flounder around awhile before going up again. That's why I call myself a trader -- I don't invest, I trade, and know when the heck to get out and put the money back into first bank of mattress....

      Copper is doing pretty well these days too, some due to manipulation, but in general we're finding out that Malthus was right, just in the wrong century. Won't be many decades before old landfills become a "mineral rights" issue. We really do live in a finite place.

    • Your points aren't really relevant. The US is once again producing something and selling it to another country. That's a good thing and lowers our trade deficit. While we'd all love for all the materials to be mined here, and all the equipment made here that goes into our military equipment... the fact of the matter is, the loop that goes: Mined in the US, made in Japan, assembled in the US is a heck of a lot better than: Mined in China, Made in China, Assembled in the US.

      As far as the pollution goes, simpl
  • They probably closed the US operation because China could manufacture it cheaper.  Kinda puts the California company in a position to exploit the market.
  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday December 27, 2010 @02:10PM (#34678252) Homepage

    The Molycorp restart has been known for months. The IPO was back in July.

    "Rare earths" aren't really that rare. There are many potential mining sites worldwide. They're sparse, in that huge amounts of rock have to be processed to get small amounts of metal. Because of that, rare earth mines produce vast amounts of useless tailings, contaminated with the chemicals used in extraction. That's why nobody wants one nearby. The big one in Inner Mongolia is considered an environmental disaster area even by Chinese standards [dailymail.co.uk].

    • by Graff (532189)

      "Rare earths" aren't really that rare. There are many potential mining sites worldwide. They're sparse, in that huge amounts of rock have to be processed to get small amounts of metal.

      Rare [merriam-webster.com], in this case, is a relative term. You might play poker and rarely get a royal flush (1 in 649,740) but if you play a billion hands you'll get an average of 1539 royal flushes. You never go above the rare chance to get a royal flush but with a big enough sample size you are likely to end up with a lot of them.

      The Earth is a HUGE sample size but that doesn't change the fact that the rare earths are, well, rare! Of course almost every element is rare in comparison to the most common element [wikipedia.org], hydrogen [quotationspage.com].

    • Re:Old news (Score:4, Interesting)

      by demonbug (309515) on Monday December 27, 2010 @04:35PM (#34679532) Journal

      Coordinates of the Chinese mine are 41.797846,109.976892 if you are interested in looking it up on Google Earth or similar. Hard to judge the size of the mine directly, but the sprawling piles of tailings are pretty impressive (the rampant nasty-looking runoff less so).

      For comparison, the Mountain Pass mine in California appears to be at 35.47903,-115.535796 (literally just off I-15 between LA and Las Vegas).

      • by demonbug (309515)

        Addition to my post: You can find the Chinese mine on Google Maps if you put "baiyun'ebo" in as the search term as opposed to the various spellings in this and other articles.

  • Can we finally admit that we're in a cold war with china? Finally?

    • by Jeng (926980)

      Can you please state what makes you think we are in a cold war with China?

      Capitalistic competitors, yes, but not cold war adversaries any longer.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are only a few principals in Molycorp, each with millions in salaries plus bonuses. They managed to lose over 80 million USD on 22 million USD in equity in just three short years. They hired a couple firms to shake the fear lobby public relations/news tree. The Japan-China rare earth thing occurs regularly every couple of years, and this incident is no different. You may find in the next SEC filing that the principals have unloaded significant paper dilution in the latest round of scamming. I expect t

  • by Elder Entropist (788485) on Monday December 27, 2010 @05:23PM (#34679988)

    Within two years the mine could be producing 20% of the amount of rare earths we import from China.

    The article says the mine could produce 20% of what China produces, not 20% of what the US imports from China.

"Free markets select for winning solutions." -- Eric S. Raymond

Working...