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Nickel mine could open in Minnesota amid rising electric vehicle demand, raising concerns: "It's going to devastate the land"

Small Minnesota town at center of nickel boom
Small Minnesota town at center of nickel boom 04:54

As demand for electric cars continues to grow, so does the need for a mineral critical to its function: nickel, which makes batteries last longer, so cars can go farther. 

But the United States produces less than 1% of the world's nickel supply, and American electric vehicle makers rely on supplies from places like Russia, China and Indonesia.

Now, one metals company, Talon, wants to turn 100 acres of American farmland into the largest source of nickel in the United States — but some are concerned about the possible impact. 

Talon recently launched the Tamarack Nickel-Copper-Cobalt Project located in Tamarack, Minnesota, with the goal of providing a domestic source of nickel to be used in the electric vehicle industry. The metals company drilled nearly 500 test holes — and found some of the world's best nickel.  

"This is a world class deposit," Todd Malan, chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy for Talon Metals, told CBS News. 

With the success of the test holes, Talon hopes to open the mine in 2026, when the only other nickel mine in the United States is set to close. It is expected to bring more than 300 jobs to the state, and the company already has a deal to supply nickel to Tesla. It still needs to be approved by the state of Minnesota before it officially opens.  

But some in the area have questions.

"Where is the scientific data that says this is safe?" said Melanie Benjamin, who leads the executive branch of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, whose tribal land in less than two miles from the proposed mine.

Benjamin worries about pollution impacting the fragile wetlands where native tribes fish and hunt and have harvested wild rice for generations. 

"There is a spiritual connection to the water, to the plants, to the animals, to the land. It's going to devastate the land, and the land may never come back from that devastation. That's pretty scary," said Benjamin. 

Local homeowners in Tamarack are also worried about sulfuric acid runoff from the mine leaking into pristine waterways.

But Talon said it will process the nickel out of state, and that the deep-underground mine poses little risk to the environment. 

"We totally understand the context and the history," Talon's Todd Malan said. "We understand how precious this environment is."

Still, many have a hard time taking a mining company at its word.

"Asking Talon or asking any mining company about how they're going to take care of the community environment is kind of like asking the fox how he's taking care of the chicken coop," said Thomas Anderson, who has a home in Tamarack.

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