By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Wyoming could apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for authority to license radioactive byproducts from rare earth processing through a bill that moved forward Wednesday.
The Legislature’s House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to advance House Bill 61, which could ultimately mean more state-level oversight.
Rare earth mining operations in the state of Wyoming now are required to apply for that license through the NRC. The process takes about three years and costs the mining company $3 million.
Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, said that having licensing done at the state level would cut the cost and time by half.
Wyoming has primacy in permitting the extraction of uranium and thorium through in-situ mining processes. However, to mine rare earth minerals, which produces uranium and thorium as a byproduct, the operator needs a different license.
For NRC approval of Wyoming also having primacy on these processes, the state’s licensing requirements will need to be at least as stringent as the federal requirements.
Ducks In A Row
Travis Deti, executive director with the Wyoming Mining Association, said interest in pursuing this authority now is the high potential for rare earth mining in Wyoming.
“Wyoming has got, right now, probably one of the richest deposits in North America of rare earth minerals,” Deti said.
There are two main deposits known at this time — one in northeast Wyoming near Upton and a second in the southeast corner of the state.
China controls somewhere between 95% and 97% of the rare earth market in the world, Deti said. These minerals are used in a variety of electronics, as well as wind turbines and solar panels.
The push to build out renewable energy is exponentially increasing the demand for these minerals as well as an interest in developing a domestic supply that China can’t control.
“The reason we’re asking for this is to kind of get our regulatory ducks in a row so that we can … bring a new industry to the state,” Deti said.
Deti warned that Wyoming is in competition with other states on the matter, so as the demand ramps up, he said the state needs to get ahead of that competition.
“The train is leaving the station, and we need to be driving that train,” Deti said.
‘Get ’Er Done’
Speaking after the meeting, Deti said he was happy with the committee’s vote and that the state should get approval for licensing within three years.
“We now got this on the glideslope, and we just need to get ’er done,” Deti said.