Image 1 of 1
Mountain Pass, California, November 15, 2010 - A view of the open-air mine at Mountain Pass, owned by Molycorp Minerals, which mines rare earth elements. According to Scott Honan, an Environmental Manager for Molycorp, the grey rock in unusable minerals, while the brown and pink rock contains rare earth minerals. "When we resume mining operations, we will be able to mine 2 tons of earth per day, with about an 8% yield of rare earth," Honan added. Rare earth elements - there are 17 in all - are crucial for many current technologies, including mobile phones, wind turbines, hybrid cars, laptops and military hardware, such as Army tank navigation systems and Navy radars. Uranium prospectors discovered the mine at Mountain Pass in 1949 and it became the dominant producer of rare earth elements until the 1990s when pressure from other producers began to drive prices down. That along with a number of leaks of radioactive water during transmission into a evaporation lake 13 miles away and state regulators delaying operating permits forced the mines closure in 2002. Though mining ceased, some processing of already mined elements continued. Molycorp was purchased by Unocal in the 1970s, which in turn was purchased from Chevron. In 2008 it's long-time chief executive, Mark A Smith, purchased in from Chevron with the help of several private equity firms. The company raised $500 million in an effort to reopen the mine, which will include expanding and modernizing the current facilities as well as incorporating newer technologies to make mining the radioactive material more environmentally safe and adding a natural gas power plant to help reduce its need to buy more expensive and less reliable energy from Los Angeles.  .