THE TIMNA VALLEY - 1987
The air-conditioned bus parked near an observation site overlooking a valley in Israel's Negev. A mix of foreign and Israeli vacationers stepped out and formed a line along a metal fence at the edge of a cliff.
“This is the Timna valley,” the tour guide explained. “It is 38 miles long with a history of copper mining going back more than 4,000 years. The famous King Solomon pillars were formed by cracks in the hard sandstones. They are .....”
The roar of an Israeli Air Force F-16 Falcon fighter plane flying northward silenced the guide. The vacationers lifted their heads and their eyes followed the path of the aircraft overhead. A sudden explosion at its exhaust nozzle was followed by an object shot up from the Falcon as the plane hurtled toward the valley. A parachute opened. In a deafening sound, the plane crashed on the eastern slope of the basin. Tourists picked up binoculars.
Within minutes, the staccato of an approaching chopper disturbed the silence as it headed to the pilot's landing site. The pilot discarded his parachute and climbed into the rescue aircraft. The chopper lifted and flew northward. A second helicopter landed at the site of the crash.
“Probably a mechanical failure,” the tour guide said. “At least the pilot is safe.”
Originally, the Odessa security buildings had been built for use by NKVD, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. After the organization disbanded in 1954, the complex housed the MVD, the USSR Ministry of Internal Security Affairs and the KGB, the Soviet Committee for State Security.
Evgeny Vassilievitz was a young officer and a rising star of the KGB. Excelling in planning security operations in the Ukrainian city, he was on the Kremlin list of candidates destined to climb up the ranks. In the Ukraine, his Russian roots were known only to his supervisor Ivanov. At the KGB main hall, field operatives assembled for presenting their year-end regional report to visiting officials from Moscow.
“Evgeny.” Ivanov lifted his reading glasses and waved from his desk when his assistant entered. “Our Kremlin guys will arrive in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I want to tell you about your new task on a Tunguska discovery.”
“Another sensation-seeking announcement by geologists?”
“They reported a new claim.”
“Will they ever stop?” Evgeny asked. “After 80 years of research in that forsaken Siberian crater, there’s still no consensus on what caused the 1908 explosion and the devastation of 1000 square miles. I don’t believe any of their announcements.”
“Their new discovery may be important this time. The Kremlin wants us to look into it.”
“Again? Are they still interested in the cause of the explosion?”
“Moscow doesn’t care what event created the crater. A meteorite, an exploding volcano, a UFO, or exploding anti-matter. They only want to know the potential impact of the new finding on Soviet security.”
“What did the geologists find?”
Although my book From Timna to Mars is a fictional work of my imagination, it is based on a real potential crisis for all humans on Earth. There has been a lot of publicity on the subject.
In 2011, the Pentagon issued an alarming report spotlighting the military dependence on rare-earth metals. It included a section on a potential Achilles’s heel for the US military’s reliance on rare earths used in manufacturing weapons. It highlighted high-end weapons, such as precision-guided bombs, advanced fighter aircraft, night-vision goggles, and targeting lasers, which depend on components built with rhenium, neodymium, europium, ruthenium, and other rare-earth metals. It even addressed nonmilitary threats to oil refineries and consumer technologies found in everything from smartphones to hybrid-car batteries.
The report stated that China has achieved an almost-complete monopoly on processing rare-earth oxides by producing more than 80 percent of the world’s needs. When the Chinese placed export quotas on rare-earth metals and oxides, the Pentagon expressed its concern about the potential supply interruptions. It urged the president and the Congress to allocate the funding to encourage United States–based companies to construct facilities for processing rare-earth oxides in the United States.
In my book, I highlighted only three elements that are crucial.
Rhenium is used in small rocket thrusters for positioning satellites, drugs for treating liver cancer cells, and wires in photoflashes. With a melting point of 3,180 degrees Celsius, it enables the manufacturing of super alloys to operate at high temperatures in aircraft turbine blades and gas turbine engines.
Ruthenium is used to enhance the strength of jet engine blades.
Neodymium has high magnetic strength, which is critical in manufacturing small and efficient magnets used in many applications from large electric turbines, motors, generators, and windmills to miniature transformers in smartphones.