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Rare Earth Elements in National Defense

Absence of the Study of Rare Earth Application Sciences in Most U.S. Colleges and Universities

There is a growing gap between the United States and China with regard to the academic study of rare earth elements. China employs thousands of scientists in both disciplines. The only U.S. public university with a rare earths specialty is the Colorado School of Mines (MINES); a public research university devoted to engineering and applied science. MINES is one of a few academic resources in the world that provides broad experience in mineralogy, resource exploration, mining, extraction, and production.

In a hearing before the House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Dr. Stephan Freiman, a scientist and former member of the National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Critical Mineral Impacts on the U.S. Economy, discussed the conclusions of a study sponsored by the NRC to examine the role of nonfuel minerals in the U.S. economy and potential material supply vulnerabilities.57 Among the study’s recommendations were the following:

Federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Department of the Interior (including the USGS), Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and Department of Commerce, should develop and fund activities, including basic science and policy research, to encourage U.S. innovation in the area of critical minerals and materials and to enhance understanding of global mineral availability and use programs involving academic organizations, industry, and government to enhance education and applied research.

The study also recommended funding scientific research on the entire mineral life cycle and building cooperative programs among academia, industry, and government to enhance education and applied research. 58

Options for Congress

Congress may consider both short-range and long-range options for securing a source for rare earth elements as part of its oversight role in addressing U.S. national security interests. Short- range options potentially include hearings on the “Section 843” rare earths report, convening defense suppliers to discuss rare earth material shortages, establishing rare earth material stockpiles for defense purposes, instituting a new critical minerals program, and reconvening the SMPB. Long-range options could include reducing DOD consumption of rare earth elements by identifying and securing equally effective alternatives to rare earths, establishing partnerships

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hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry, March 16, 2010, http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/ File/Commdocs/hearings/2010/Oversight/16mar/Hearing_Charter.pdf.

57 NRC is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, chartered by Congress in 1863 to advise the government on matters of science and technology. See http://sites.nationalacademies.org/NRC/index.htm.

58 Statement of Dr. Stephen Freiman, President, Freiman Consulting, Inc., Member, National Research Council Committee on Critical Mineral Impacts on the U.S. Economy. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry, March 26, 2010, http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/File/Commdocs/hearings/2010/Oversight/16mar/ Hearing_Charter.pdf.

Congressional Research Service

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