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US digging through waste to uncover rare earths

The US government not only wants to wean itself off foreign oil supply but also rare earth supply and the secret may lie in old mines’ tailings deposits, the Associated Press reports.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has been tasked with uncovering domestic supplies of the highly-coveted commodities in which China currently holds a 95% monopoly.

The state agency has found that gold-rush era miners may have inadvertently dug up rare earth deposits and tossed the now-valuable minerals into tailings piles.

“Uncle Sam could be sitting on a gold mine,” Larry Meinert, a spokesman for the USGS told AP reporters.

USGS geologists are analyzing samples from old mine sites and assessing the feasibility of recycling some of these discarded rocks. So far they have discovered a dozen locations with elevated showings of critical metals.

China’s rare earth price manipulations over the past few years have motivated US law makers to seek other sources. Rare earths are key components in many high-tech gadgets, clean-energy products and weapons manufacturing. Producing these minerals domestically could make US manufacturing more competitive.

The US is currently home to one rare earths mine in Southern California owned by Molycorp Minerals.

Creative Commons image by: Keegie_in_DC