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Soil samples containing niobium, which is used to harden steel, extracted from the depths at a proposed mine site near Elk Creek, Nebraska.


LINCOLN — A proposed rare earth minerals mine in southeast Nebraska won’t need to pump salty water into the Missouri River after all, the mine’s developer said Wednesday.

Original plans for the niobium mine planned near Elk Creek, Nebraska, called for building a pipeline, carrying up to 12,000 gallons of salty water per minute, to the Missouri River, to dispose of water drawn from deep under the ground to dewater the mining area.

But NioCorp Developments Ltd. said that updated hydrogeological studies, and a switch to a “freeze wall” technology for drilling the main shafts, has significantly reduced the amount of bedrock water that will be encountered.

NioCorp spokesman Jim Sims said the pipeline would have cost about $120 million and required two federal environmental permits, which are now not required. Any salty water now encountered will be processed into fresh water, he said. It has not yet been determined what will be done with the briny water and salt left behind, Sims said.

The company is working to raise $1 billion to make feasible the mine, which has been discussed for decades. It will primarily produce niobium, which is used to harden steel. Scandium, which is used to make lightweight aluminum used for aircraft and vehicles, would also be extracted.

Some environmental groups had expressed concern about disposal of mining wastewater into the river.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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