NRC issues license for rare earth extraction project

July 31, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported on July 27 that it has issued a license to Rare Element Resources Inc. for a proposed pilot project in Wyoming to demonstrate a proprietary process to extract rare earth elements from ore.

The company’s Upton pilot project, sponsored in part by the Department of Energy, involves a mined pile of about 1,000 tons of ore to be transported from the Black Hills National Forest in northeastern Wyoming to a processing plant in Upton, Wyo. Extracting rare earth elements from the ore will produce waste streams that include thorium and some uranium, requiring a source material license from the NRC.

Under the NRC license, Rare Element Resources will treat and stabilize the process wastes before sending them to a licensed low-level waste disposal facility.

The review: The NRC’s review of the license application included a technical safety review and environmental assessment. The agency published in the Federal Register in May a notice of opportunity to request a hearing. No petitions were filed, according to the agency.

Project news: Rare Element Resources intends to start processing the ore pile in April 2024. The project is expected to take one year, followed by two years of decommissioning. The license is valid through April 30, 2027.

Uses: Rare earth elements are essential in many applications, including electric automobiles, smart phones, advanced wind turbines, computer hard drives, magnets, and military systems.

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