US Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Joe Manchin (W. Va.) introduced the “National Rare Earth Cooperative Act of 2014” this week, bipartisan legislation to encourage US production of rare earth metals (and thorium), relieving US dependence on China’s rare earth minerals.
Noting that thorium is a mildly radioactive element commonly associated with the lanthanide elements in the most heavy rare earth deposits that are located in the United States and elsewhere, and that current regulations regulations regarding thorium represent a barrier to the development of a heavy rare earth industry that is based in the United States, the act grants private rare earth suppliers and end-users with an opportunity to set up a thorium-bearing rare earth refining cooperative in America.
The bill proposes that:
It is the policy of the United States to advance domestic refining of heavy rare earth materials and the safe storage of thorium in anticipation of the potential future industrial uses of thorium, including energy, as—
(1) thorium has a mineralogical association with valuable heavy rare earth elements;
2) there is a great need to develop domestic refining capacity to process domestic heavy rare earth deposits; and
(3) the economy of the United States would benefit from the rapid development and control of intellectual property relating to the commercial development of technology utilizing thorium.
The bill proposes that as soon as practicable after enactment, the Cooperative Board, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, establish the Thorium Storage, Energy, and Industrial Products Corporation to develop uses and markets for thorium, including energy.
Thorium, among other uses, is of interest in advanced nuclear fuel cycles.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), rare earth elements are located in the Pea Ridge iron-ore mine in Washington County, Mo. Missouri also has a long mining history in various minerals, including some of the largest sources of lead deposits in the country.
Blunt is also a co-sponsor of Senators Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski’s (Alaska) Critical Minerals Bill, which directs the USGS to establish a list of minerals critical to the US economy and national security such as Rare Earth Elements.