Rare metals mining company plans to build processing plant in Ketchikan

A Canadian mining company that specializes in rare earth mineral extraction announced Tuesday it plans to build a processing facility in Ketchikan.

Ucore Rare Metals, Inc., based in Nova Scotia, has been exploring the Bokan-Dotson Ridge site on Prince of Wales Island as a possible new mine.

That potential mine is not anywhere near production yet , but Mike Schrider, vice president of operations and engineering, said the plant will be built whether or not the mine is developed.

“We would actually initially process feedstocks from other sites throughout the world, get the processing plant up and running and established, and eventually, when the timing is right with the market, we would ultimately try to get Bokan on line and then also process the Bokan ore concentrate at this particular facility,” he said.

Schrider said a specific site for the processing plant has not been chosen. The first step was deciding on Ketchikan as the right location.

“We looked at a variety of factors, including the proximity to Bokan mine, the existing relationship we have with AIDEA, the access to international shipping corridors, the available workforce in Ketchikan,” he said. “So it’s a good fit for us and we felt it would also be a good fit for Ketchikan.”

AIDEA is the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. That state agency provides financial assistance for economic development projects. The Legislature in 2014 approved an AIDEA financing package of $145 million to develop Bokan mine and related processing facilities.

The prices for rare earth elements dropped a few years ago.  Schrider said work at the mine is on hold.

“We’re waiting for signs of recovery in that particular sector,” he said. “Once we see those signs, that will lead us to the next step in that project.”

Schrider said there is not yet a timeline for development of the processing plant.

“Now that we made the determination to locate the plant in Ketchikan, we need to go through our next phase of due diligence, which will yield a detailed plan for us, and then we’ll come out with what our anticipated schedule is,” he said.

Schrider said the plant, once built, will initially employ about a dozen people. Eventually, he said, it will employ about 30.

Rare earth elements are used in high-tech products such as cellular telephones and electric vehicles. Most of the rare earth elements in the market come from China.

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