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The Dirty Secret Inside Your Prius

'Rare earth' mining can hurt the environment
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2011 6:05 PM CST
Updated Nov 19, 2011 7:00 PM CST

(Newser) – So, you bought a Prius or know someone who has. Beautiful. But look under the hood and you'll find some neodymium, one of the "rare earth" minerals that help run all kinds of green technology—and other high-tech stuff like smartphones and flat-screen TVs. So far so good, but rare-earth mining can be environmentally destructive, reportedly causing cancer and leaking radioactive waste in some cases. What's more, the rare-earth mining business is booming, Mother Jones reports.

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With China cutting its rare-earth exports, more mines are set to open in the US—including the world's biggest, in California's Mojave Desert. But producing 40,000 tons of the stuff every year means there will be waste, and the owner, Molycorp, has raised concerns with its history of spills. So what to do, if you're green-conscious? Pressure companies to stay clean, experts say. "We need this stuff," says a mining consultant. "It's just a matter of figuring out how to do it right, and unfortunately, the mining industry doesn't have a strong history of doing this." (On the lighter side, read about a bear who took a Prius on a joyride.)

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