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Lawmakers hope rare earth mineral bill could help the state’s nuclear industry

Rare earth minerals from Baotou, Geology exhibition in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China
Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Wyoming would like to have more control over regulating the rare earth mineral industry – the hope being it would spur nuclear development in the state.

A bill that recently passed its committee would create a ‘source material associated with the mining agreement.’ Source materials are radioactive byproducts that can come from rare earth mineral mining, including the mineral uranium.

Notably, uranium is key for the success of the proposed TerraPower nuclear facility in Kemmerer, which is delayed due to the lack of supply of highly enriched uranium.

Originally, the uranium supplier was Russia, but since the war, companies are looking to source the mineral in the U.S.

“We're in competition with other states,” Travis Deti, the executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said to lawmakers. “And you know, we're behind some, we're ahead of some, but the train on rare earths in the United States is leaving the station and we need to be driving that train.”

The bill would allow Wyoming, rather than the federal government, to oversee the permitting process for the radioactive minerals. The hope is it would be a quicker and cheaper process that would entice more rare earth mining.

House Representative Donald Burkhart (R-Rawlins) said permitting through the federal government could prove costly.

“It's probably going to cost you around three years time and $3 million in cost to get a license,” he said. “Dealing with the state, which we'd all much rather do, you probably cut both of those in half.”

House bill 61 moved out of committee last week and passed second reading on the house floor Tuesday, Jan. 17. It now will go to a third reading on the house floor.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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