Rare earth elements are needed to manufacture everything from cell phones to F-35 jet fighters. The industry was born in the US decades ago but over the years has shifted to China, “where nearly 90 percent of the crucial metals are mined and processed for the rest of the world.” In 1992, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said, “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.” Without having to factor in American expensive labor costs and environmental concerns, China poured billions of dollars in government subsidies to support the industry. In 1995, China bought America’s largest rare earth magnet company, Magnequench. There’s only one rare earths mine and processing facility in the US today, Molycorp.
60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl goes to Molycorp’s mine and facility in the Mojave Desert where the industry started–and where it might end. Molycorp might not be able to stay in business. The company’s creditors just hired Blackstone for restructuring advice. Stahl’s report will air on Sunday, March 22, 7pm on CBS.