Iron Ore: From Depletion to Abundance

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Science  10 Apr 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4491, pp. 132-136
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4491.132


Following World War II, Americans feared their iron ore supplies were depleted. The steel industry attempted to increase supplies by exploring foreign countries for new, high-grade hematite ores and experimenting with technology that upgraded low-grade domestic taconite ores into acceptable, but apparently uneconomical, pellets. Government did little at first, but the Korean War renewed fears of domestic resource exhaustion. Congress quickly enacted loan guarantees, rapid tax write-offs, and other tax policies that helped commercialize taconite pellets for national defense. These policies lingered long after the Korean War ended. Other policies bolstering taconite were enacted on the state level well after taconite had replaced hematite as industry's ore of choice. Understanding how government policies helped to develop pelletized lean iron ore may help in thinking about current policy suggestions aimed at easing our energy crisis or other mineral shortages. For taconite, too much government help came too late.