New interest in Idaho's rare-earth deposits

China’s limits on rare-earth exports prompt new interest in Idaho’s rare-earth mineral deposits.

The need for rare-earth minerals like neodymium could define the relationship between the United States and China and elevate Idaho into a critical role in the nation’s industrial future.

China currently supplies 97 percent of these critical minerals, which have properties that make them important for superconductors, magnets and lasers used in wind generators, cells phones and military hardware. China’s own phenomenal growth has prompted officials there to suggest there may be a time when the country will be forced to cut off exports.

Those decisions could come for political reasons as well.

This was highlighted recently when China briefly halted shipments of rare-earth minerals to Japan’s high technology industries after Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain in contested waters. China officially denied that any embargo had taken place, but since the embargo was revealed, shipments have resumed.

That got attention on Capitol Hill last month, and Boeing has announced it is seeking to secure its own supply of these strategic metals. It happens that Idaho appears to be one of the few places where these metals occur in quantities large enough to mine.

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