Category Archives: Economy

U.S. Reliance on Non-Fuel Mineral Imports

The U.S. Geologic Survey produces a series of mineral commodity annual reports and individual commodity data sheets. The web page for the index to these reports and data sheets is at the following link:

One particularly interesting document, with a very dull sounding title, is, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, which you can download for free at the following link:

This USGS report starts by putting the non-fuel mineral business sector in context with the greater U.S. economy. In the USGS chart below, you can see that the non-fuel mineral business sector makes up 13.5% of the U.S. economy. By dollar volume, net imports of processed mineral materials make up only a small portion (about 1.6%) of the non-fuel mineral business.

USGS role of minerals in the economy

In the, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, USGS also identified the U.S. reliance on non-fuel minerals imports. Their chart for 2014 is reproduced below.

USGS Net Import Reliance

Many of the above non-fuel minerals have very important uses in high-value products created in other business sectors.  A good summary table on this matter appears in the National Academies Press report entitled, Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries: A Call to Action, published in August 2015. You can view or download this report for free at the following link:

In this report, refer to Table 2.5, Common or Essential Products and Some of Their Mineral Components.

Among the minerals with very important roles in modern electrical and electronic components and advanced metals is the family of rare earths, which is comprised of the 17 elements highlighted in the periodic table, below:

  • the 15 members of the Lanthanide series from 57La (Lanthanum) to 71Lu (Lutetium), and
  • the two Transitional elements 21Sc (Scandium) and 39Y (Yttrium).

Periodic Table - Rare Earths


In the above 2014 import reliance chart, USGS reported that the U.S. continued to be a net importer of rare earth minerals (overall, 59% reliant), and that for Scandium the U.S was 100% reliant on imports.

In the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, USGS reported the following usage of rare earth minerals in the U.S.:

  • General uses: catalysts, 60%; metallurgical applications and alloys, 10%; permanent magnets, 10%; glass polishing, 10%; and other, 10%.
  • Scandium principal uses: solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) and aluminum-scandium alloys. Other uses are in ceramics, electronics, lasers, lighting, and radioactive isotopes used as a tracing agent in oil refining

China became the world’s dominant producer of rare earths in the 1990s, replacing U.S. domestic producers, none of which could not compete economically with the lower prices offered by the Chinese producers.

On March 22, 2015, the CBS TV show 60 Minutes featured a segment on the importance of rare earth elements and underscored the need to ensure a domestic supply chain of these critical minerals. You can view this segment at the following link:

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report entitled Critical Materials Strategy, which you can download for free at the following link:

The summary results of the DOE “criticality assessment” are reproduced below

“Sixteen elements were assessed for criticality in wind turbines, EVs (electric vehicles), PV (photovoltaic) cells and fluorescent lighting. The methodology used was adapted from one developed by the National Academy of Sciences. The criticality assessment was framed in two dimensions: importance to clean energy and supply risk. Five rare earth elements (REEs)—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be critical in the short term (present–2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. Other elements—cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium—were found to be near-critical. Between the short term and the medium term (2015– 2025), the importance to clean energy and supply risk shift for some materials (Figures ES-1 and ES-2).”

DOE Critical Materials Strategy

While the results of the DOE criticality assessment focused on importance to the energy sector, the identified mineral shortages will impact all business sectors that depend on these minerals, including consumer electronics and national defense.

Further insight on the importance of rare earths is provided by an annual report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence entitled, U.S. Intelligence Community Worldwide Threat Assessment Statement for the Record. The report delivered on March 12, 2013 highlighted the national security threat presented by China’s monopoly on rare earth elements. You can download that report at the following link:

The 2013 threat assessment offered the following perspective on the strategic importance of rare earth minerals:

“Rare earth elements (REE) are essential to civilian and military technologies and to the 21st century global economy, including development of green technologies and advanced defense systems. China holds a commanding monopoly over world REE supplies, controlling about 95 percent of mined production and refining. China’s dominance and policies on pricing and exports are leading other countries to pursue mitigation strategies, but those strategies probably will have only limited impact within the next five years and will almost certainly not end Chinese REE dominance.”

 While the above focus has been on rare earths, the discussion serves to illustrate that the U.S. is dependent on importing many minerals that are very important to the national economy.





New Report Quantifies the Value of Nuclear Power Plants to the U.S. Economy and Their Contribution to Limiting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

On 2 July 2015, I made a long post entitled, “EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”

On 7 July 2015, Nuclear Matters ( issued a related,  comprehensive report, prepared by economists from The Brattle Group (, that quantifies the significant value of nuclear power plants to the U.S. economy and the contribution made to limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Their report’s findings include:

  • U.S. nuclear energy plants contribute $60 billion annually to gross domestic product (GDP), in addition to other economic and societal benefits.
  • The nuclear industry accounts for about 475,000 full-time jobs (direct and secondary).
  • Energy generated from nuclear plants avoids emissions that otherwise would have been generated by fossil power plants.
    • 573 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, worth an additional $25 billion annually if valued at the U.S. government’s estimate for the social cost of carbon.
    • 650,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and over one million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions annually, together valued at $8.4 billion using the National Academy of Science’s externality estimates.
  • Nuclear power helps keep electricity prices low. Without nuclear power, retail electricity rates could increase by about 6% on average. Keeping electricity prices low is the primary means by which nuclear power boosts the economy.
  • Provides $10 billion in federal tax revenues and $2.2 billion in state tax revenues annually.

You can download the report, entitled, The Nuclear Industry’s Contribution to the U.S. Economy” at the link below.  The report also describes the modeling techniques used to estimate economic value with and without the contributions from nuclear power.’s_Contribution_to_the_U.S._Economy.pdf?1436280444

Brattle-Group-nuc-power-economics-report-7-Jul-15 R1

World Bank Open Data Website Provides Free Access to Data About Development in Countries Around the Globe

You can access World Bank Open Data at the following link:

Your basic navigation options are shown below:

World Bank web site navigation

As an example of what you can find, I selected the “Indicators” tab, then looked under the “Infrastructure” heading and found that data on “Internet users (per 100 people)” were available. These data are viewable in different formats (tabular, map, graph). The map results for the period 2010 – 2014 are shown below:

World Bank internet usage 2010 - 2014

Resolution is at the country level, so the country-wide average values are not representative of usage in remote areas of the country (i.e., the Canadian northern territories).  Nonetheless, the map of the global distribution of Internet users is an interesting result that is quickly available from World Bank data.

The World Bank website look like an interesting site to explore at your leisure.