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Trudeau promotes accelerated development of critical metals

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured Vital Metals’ rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon on Jan. 16.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, tours the Vital Metals Saskatoon processing facility with John Dorward, managing director of Vital Metals, with Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark in the background. Stobbe/Vital Metals Photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured Vital Metals’ rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon on Jan. 16.

The facility, which processes ore from the Nechalacho mine 110 km southeast of Yellowknife, was his first stop on a three-day Canadian tour to promote the federal government’s plan to accelerate development of the country’s critical metals and minerals. The Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy was released in December.

“People are realizing that this extraordinary transformation toward more electric vehicles, more advanced high-tech solutions in everything we do, requires more access to advanced materials and rare earth elements,” said Trudeau.

Speaking without notes, he stated, “That’s why the world is looking to Canada, because Canada has incredible amounts of critical minerals and rare earth elements that the world needs.

“People want to see these are done… in partnership and respect with Indigenous people.”

John Dorward, managing director for Vital Metals, said the company is working on plans to potentially increase the production of the mine by a factor of eight, a vision supported by the federal government.

“We are engaging with our stakeholders about plans to expand mining operations and value-added processing from 500 tonnes per year of NdPr (magnetic rare earths) to potentially 4,000 tonnes to meet ever-growing demand.

“Much of the reason that we have been able to advance our vision has been due to the support of the Government of Canada.”

The company’s previous stated goal was to produce 25,000 tonnes of concentrate annually by 2025.

David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs for Vital Metals, said that the mining company plans to expand to another rare earth deposit to meet the target of 4,000 tonnes annually.

“The global demand for rare earths, particularly those sourced in a sustainable manner, is growing rapidly, particularly among our friends and allies,” said Connelly. “Subject to permitting, that would mean the opening of the Tardiff expansion.”

The Tardiff deposit lies two kilometers south of Nechalacho’s camp.

“The Tardiff deposit is many times larger than (the North T deposit) and could ultimately be a multi-generational supply of rarer earths to many of our friends and allies,” Connelly said.

The North T deposit is a relatively small source of rare earths that Vital Metals has started mining. The company intentionally started work on the smaller deposit to demonstrate environmentally responsible mining practices, according to Connelly.

“We were demonstrating our environmental and social responsibility credentials, and demonstrating the product to the world,” he said.

He added that the mining expansion would require approximately 250 ongoing employees and several times more than that during construction.

He also stated that the Tardiff expansion would likely be ready in 2026 or 2027, if Vital Metals acquires a permit.

Connelly said that he has been engaging with Indigenous groups, communities, and governments to extend the permit on North T, which expires in June.

He wasn’t able to meet Trudeau on Monday because he made a commitment to take part in one of the community engagement meetings in the NWT.

Connelly was able to meet the prime minister in August during a visit to Montreal, where German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited and discussed acquiring critical minerals from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a press briefing at Vital Metals’ rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon on Jan. 16. Ore from the Nechalacho mine in the NWT is sent to this plant for processing. Stobbe/Vital Metals Photo