Rare Earth Elements for WSJ

    Last month I spent some time on the California/Nevada border photographing a rare earth mine, the only of its kind in the United States. The open pit mine, which was a leading producer of rare earth minerals since the 1950’s, suspended mining ore in 2002 due to complaints that the mine had leak several hundred thousand gallons of radioactive water into the desert. Soon after, China became the dominant producer eventually controlling 97% of the world’s output.

    Why does any of this matter? Well in a bitter twist of irony, rare earth minerals are a central component of many of today’s green technology: everything from hybrid cars to wind turbines compact fluorescent bulbs to water purification systems. In fact most technology today needs these elements. Cell phones, laptops, sonar & radar technology, LCD & plasma televisions, headphones & microphones, optical lenses on digital cameras, scanners and copiers, all rely on rare earth minerals.

    Our access was in the form of a two hour escorted tour. These things are a dance. They try to show you what they want you to see, while you try to get access to what is important to the story while also keeping in mind that you need enough to flesh out the story. If you push too hard in one direction, you run the risk of them dragging their feet and you end up wasting time in only one place or miss another opportunity. Fortunately I was traveling with the writer for the article who has had experience with the subject. This gave me the opportunity to benefit from his questions, leaving me only to ask things when I needed it. It was also a distraction so that I could wander a little without feeling the weight of oversight. I got enough, but probably only what they really wanted to share, but more than I expected frankly. It was an interesting exercise. 

    To read the article, visit Rare-Earth Miner in U.S. Tackles China, Its Own Past on WSJ.com
    To view the full set of images, visit the LUCEO Image Archive