Community members look at one of the drill sites at the Niocorp Developments Ltd. proposed mine site near Elk Creek in 2014.

The company looking to mine rare metals in Southeast Nebraska believes a government proposal gives it a shot in the arm.

The Department of Interior on Friday published a notice in the Federal Register declaring 35 minerals "critical" to the country's security and economic prosperity.

The list, which was developed based on a Dec. 20 executive order from President Donald Trump, includes niobium, scandium and titanium, three metals that Niocorp Developments Ltd. wants to mine at a site near Elk Creek in Johnson County.

Niocorp said in a news release Friday that it believes the Federal Register listing, "elevates the strategic importance of the Elk Creek Project."

“In many ways, our Elk Creek Superalloy Project is emerging as an increasingly unique and valuable ‘critical minerals mine’ in terms of its strategic importance to the United States and to other Western nations,” Mark A. Smith, executive chairman and CEO of NioCorp, said in the news release. “We are very pleased with the increasing attention that is being paid to the superalloy metals we intend to produce, and we look forward to moving this project to construction and commercial operation as rapidly as we can.”

Niocorp has been working on developing the mine since 2011. Last year it released a feasibility study that says the mine, which is on a site about 70 miles southeast of Lincoln, could be worth as much as $17.6 billion over its projected 32-year lifespan and would create more than 300 permanent jobs.

The company is working to raise the money needed to construct and operate the mine, an amount estimated to be more than $1 billion. It said it hopes to begin construction sometime this year.

Last month, Nebraska congressmen Don Bacon and Adrian Smith jointly sent a letter to the secretaries of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Interior urging them to include scandium on the critical minerals list.

The Department of Interior is accepting written comments on the Federal Register listing until March 19.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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