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Rebuilding America’s Supply Chains Can’t Wait

Posted on Thursday, August 20, 2020
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by Outside Contributor
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11 Comments
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supplyTesla’s announcement of a new, 2,100-acre gigafactory in Texas has rightly generated a great deal of excitement.

In this time of economic crisis, news of 5,000 new jobs assembling the world’s most celebrated electric vehicle is an important step toward strengthening domestic manufacturing. In fact, the move has prompted Elon Musk and others to look further up the supply chain — to the raw materials that will make the production of these vehicles possible.

On a call last month, Musk highlighted his concerns about the front end of the supply chain: “Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.”

However, there is currently just one nickel mine in the United States and — as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear — America’s over-reliance on imports has become a self-imposed Achilles’ heel.

Not only has the United States become overly reliant on imports of essential goods but we’ve also become alarmingly dependent on geopolitical rivals.

Concern regarding supply chain security is prompting bipartisan calls for the reshoring of critical industries and the jobs they provide. Rebuilding America’s industrial base and confronting China’s industrial predation is now a place of consensus in a time of otherwise bitter polarization.

While the nation continues to reel from the pandemic, some argue that the latest legislative response should only focus on narrow issues most pertinent to immediate relief.

But kicking the can down the road is precisely how the richest, most powerful nation in the world ended up in this stunning predicament. Now is the time to rebuild key supply chains. National and economic security depend on it.

Reshoring critical industries and rebuilding vital supply chains will ensure that we don’t just return the economy to what it was, but build something stronger and more durable for the future.

The status quo is unsustainable and irresponsible. Consider that our mineral import reliance has more than doubled in just the past 25 years. Despite vast domestic mineral reserves valued at more than $6 trillion, we are now 50 percent or more import reliant for 46 minerals.

Of the 35 minerals deemed critical to the nation’s economic and national security by the Departments of Defense and Interior, China is the dominant global supplier for 23.

China’s production and processing of minerals and metals has placed Beijing at the front end of nearly every industrial supply chain critical to our economy and national security. China has steadily used mining to create staggering geopolitical leverage. The electric vehicle and lithium-ion battery industries are a startling example.

While Americans may believe the electric vehicle revolution is happening here — and being driven forward by announcements such as Tesla’s — China is pulling far ahead in the industrial arms race.

China has used its vice-like grip on the production and processing of battery metals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite to position itself at the center of the electric vehicle universe.

According to recent testimony delivered to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, China will soon be home to 107 of the world’s 142 lithium-ion battery mega-factories. Just nine are in the pipeline in the United States.

America’s steel industry has seen this playbook before. China controls more than half of the world’s steel production. The same could be true with the world’s cars and trucks if we don’t rise to the occasion.

As easy as it is to find fault with China’s strategic ambitions and predatory industrial practices, our own policy failures may be the pivotal element.

When it comes to mining, adversarial policy has made it shockingly difficult to permit and open new mines. We must learn to properly value secure, domestic supply chains, and to bring them home along with the jobs they support.

A more durable and equitable recovery can and should be built on this foundation.

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PaulE
PaulE
3 years ago

An actually very good article outlining the real scope and depth of the economic imbalance and national security holes we’ve created for ourselves over the last 30 years regarding both China and the rest of the world. This article does a good job of highlighting one small aspect of our deeply flawed, politically driven policies and how they have made us completely dependent on countries and regimes that mean to do us harm. China being the chief among them. Bad political decisions have bad consequences and really, really bad political decisions, carried out long enough, have truly horrible consequences. The general public, that really doesn’t pay close attention to anything not directly, personally impacting them until it is too late, is finally starting to wake up to what our past political leaders have done to this country.

The past three administrations of Clinton, Bush and Obama, in their misguided race to “diversify” supply chains and coddle China in the ludicrous hope that it would magically morph from a totalitarian communist regime to one that sheds all that to become a free and prosperous country fully embracing western values, systematically encouraged this shift. Throw in some of the most insane environmental standards designed to suppress or outright prevent any economic activity in several key domestic industries needed to support our supply chains and what you get is China now effectively controlling both the raw materials and manufacturing capability for everything from drugs to electronics to even the key materials for Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries. China, through the incredibly bad decisions of past administrations, has become either the sole source or majority supplier of nearly everything needed by us to maintain a 21st century economy.

It took 30 years to create this problem for ourselves and it will take at least 10 to 15 years of concerted effort to correct it. That is the reality folks. There is no magic light switch to do this all over-night. No one knowledgeable in the various industries we need to rebuild will dispute that, given the lead times, new domestic sources or foreign sources not already controlled by China that must be ramped up and the capital requirements needed to re-build it all. That is if, and only if, we remain tightly focused and truly committed to the task. The biggest question out there remains “Is the American public able to be truly committed to such a long term endeavor and are they willing and able to ensure we have the national leadership in place to get it done?” That means NO RETURNING to “business as usual” like those globalists of past administrations pursued.

Bob L.
Bob L.
3 years ago

If Red China doesn’t have “it” on their home soil, they own a good piece of it in other countries, including within the U.S.
They have been busy buying up land and business shares in key and strategic areas and companies for decades around the world. For instance, you would be shocked to learn how much of our food production and supply chain they have their finger in.

Fixer
Fixer
3 years ago

As a Texas resident I’m concerned with the tax breaks given to Tesla. It seems like the breaks are never tied to what the company getting those breaks actually does vs. what they say they are going to do.

Rik
Rik
3 years ago

The problem is one that we helped to create in the first place. I can remember buying my first “new” car back in 1968. The total cost was $3800. Today that same car would cost $38,000. What helped contribute to that increase. It began with the US Auto Workers Union demanding that assembly line workers get $30 hour (i’m not sure of the exact amount but for the times it was exorbitant) wages or they would go on strike and shut down the manufacturing. Of course the company gave in and prices skyrocketed AND quality decreased because the corporation was only interested in the bottom line and many manufacturers went to China because of the slave wages. The Progressively Communist Democratic Party saw what the auto workers did and it fit right into the Communist motto of “Workers Unite” and they’ve been catering to Unions ever since. In CaliMexico where I live, the Communist leadership led now by Bella Lugosi Pelosi’s nephew Gavin Newsom has pushed a $15 hour minimum wage and now outlawed independent contractors. In Capitalism, it’s free market competition that drives the economy but under Socialism/Communism, the Government dictates and controls all aspects of the economy. Having a bunch of know nothing “reasonable doubt” attorneys is the quickest way i know to a screwed up economy. And it seems that today’s Democratic Party is just full of attorneys: like Jackass Joe, Kamala, Obama, Hillary, etc., etc. I trust President Trump because he is a businessman, not a politician, and thus understands what drives a successful business and his leadership skills prove it! This election, we’re at a crossroads, Capitalism or Communism? … I choose Capitalism!

Rosemary S.
Rosemary S.
3 years ago

Lets not herald Elon Musk too much, he’s made a lot of money off of the US taxpayers. I think ? the US government still kicks in several $$ thousands for each Tesla purchased. And he gloated about all the money he made on cost overruns drilling a tunnel in Boston; now he wants to drill one in earthquake-racked Los Angeles!

John E. Adam
John E. Adam
3 years ago

President Trump and all US citizens need to know that Obama gave China some of the USA’s Nuclear Technology in 2010 and ordered Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to work with them to develop it. China controls the Earth’s supply of Rare Earth Elements (REE) which are required to manufacture most of the most important 21st century technology that we have developed. The USA did lead the world in REE production until the EPA made it too expensive to mine and refine REEs here because of the radioactive thorium and uranium that are associated with it. China has been dumping this radioactive material in Mongolia for many years. However Alvin Weinberg at ORNL developed and tested from 1965 until 1969 a meltdown proof molten salt cooled Breeder Reactor (MSR) that could use 100% of all thorium and uranium as fuel. Unfortunately our foolish politicians stopped funding the development of the MSR very likely because they only wanted Uranium 235 (U-235) fueled reactors that could breed U-238 into plutonium 239 (Pu-239) for nuclear weapons. Weinberg wanted to use the less expensive and 3 times more abundant thorium to breed into fissile U-233, which is much more difficult to use in bombs, to produce Peaceful Power in the MSR. Actually the MSR could breed either fertile U-238 into fissile Pu-239 or fertile Th-232 into fissile U-233, but our politicians were not interested in peaceful solutions during the Cold War.

Now our scientists at ORNL have always thought the MSR was the Nuclear Reactor we should have been using because it can use 100% of the thorium and 100% of the uranium found in nature for fuel. The Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR)s we use today to produce electricity cannot breed additional fuel and can only use the U-235 uranium isotope for fuel and only .7% of uranium is U-235. Coal ash has long been known to be radioactive so ORNL did a study of it in 1987 and found that there is enough thorium and uranium in the ash when used to fuel their MSR to produce eighteen times the energy produced by burning the coal. The study also found that coal ash contains large amounts of REES, aluminum, and other strategically important chemicals which we depend on China and other countries for.

Our EPA claims that waste from nuclear power plants and coal ash are huge problems. The Democratic Socialist Party wants to fight Global Warming and stop burning fossil fuels. President Trump wants to create more jobs, employ everyone in Coal Country, and compete with China. The answer should be obvious. The MSR can use all our nuclear waste and coal ash as a source for fuel. The coal miners can start cleaning up all of the coal ash and produce strategically important materials from it. We can compete with the Chinese and would not depend on them for anything. The MSRs are much safer and smaller than PWRs and do not require any cooling towers. They could be inexpensively mass produced and 250 MSRs could produce 50% of all our electric power 24/7. The Democratic Socialist Environmentalist Solution would require half a million gigantic wind turbines, enough solar power farms to cover a small state, and would be incredibly expensive. You can google “MIT ORNL China MSR” to see if the Chinese are going to use this gift from Obama.

The only real problem with using the MSR to dispose of our nuclear waste is that while it could use all of the fertile and fissile uranium and plutonium in our so called spent fuel rods, doing that would require using MSRs to provide 100% of our electic power for a few hundred years. I doubt that Alvin Weinberg considered we would continue making the same stupid mistakes for so long when he designed the MSR. Just how much is that technology worth?

Sam
Sam
3 years ago

Too bad about half the country thinks “Russia Collusion” is the most important thing this nation faces!!!

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