Prof. Chris Yakymchuk discusses rare earth mining on Global News

Friday, February 3, 2023

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent visit to Saskatoon's rare earths element processing facility has sparked conversations about rare earth elements and the environmental impact of mining them. Waterloo's Dr. Chris Yakymchuk appeared on Global News Morning Toronto to discuss rare earth mining in Canada.

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of 15 elements with unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic and luminescent properties. These elements are used as components in high-tech devices and green technologies, including: smart phones, digital cameras, computer hard disks, wind power turbines and hybrid-electric vehicles. 

REEs are called rare because they are located in low concentrations and are hard to separate from other elements. Currently, China is the largest supplier and refiner of REEs but Canada has some of the largest known reserves and resources of rare earths in the world. 

Headshot of Dr. Chris Yakymchuk

With the demand for REEs on the rise and a global push for green technology, Antony Robart from Global News spoke with Dr. Chris Yakymchuk, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, about the role Canada could play in rare earth mining.

"We [Canada] have the technology, we have the expertise and we have the rocks," said Yakymchuk. "So we have the geology and the technology, to mine elements in the cleanest possible way with a minimal environmental footprint. That's where Canada can come into play." 

As Canada moves towards a greener future it has the opportunity, both economically and environmentally, to be a leader and provide the cleanest supply of rare elements. 

Yakymchuk discussed the balancing act between demand and the environmental impact and how Canada is using the best and most environmentally-friendly mining practices. Canada has one line for REEs in the Northwest Territories that is providing one of the cleanest supplies of rarity elements into the market. 

He spoke about the role of the consumer and encouraged everyone to find out where the REEs come from that are used in the products they are purchasing. They have the choice to buy products that source REEs from countries with good mining practices and strong environmental regulation. 

Yakymchuk also commented on the length of time it takes to start new mines. Although mining can be beneficial for local community by providing jobs and income, mining companies need to do environmental baseline monitoring and build trust. Companies need to establish trust and have the support of local communities and government.

To see the full interview, please click the video below.

Split screen of Antony Robart and Chris Yakymchuk

Watch video on Global News Morning Toronto