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Japanese Team Finds New Source of Rare Earth Elements 215

Posted by timothy
from the who-the-hell-is-julian-simon? dept.
gyaku_zuki writes "As reported in the BBC, a Japanese survey team has discovered 'vast' quantities of rare earths in international waters in the Pacific Ocean. The search for alternative sources of these expensive elements (used in common consumer electronics including mobile phones) was intensified recently after a territory dispute with China, which produces more than 90% of the world's rare earths, resulted in China blocking export to Japan."
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Japanese Team Finds New Source of Rare Earth Elements

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 04, 2011 @04:35PM (#36655722)

    China only has "90%" of the world's production because they were able to undersell and close suppliers outside China. As China restricts exports, the price climbs and the suppliers outside China resume business.

    Media and some politicians have been spinning this one as if China holds 90% or somesuch assnumber of the world's resource. Is that still going on? I know it took BBC two weeks to wake up to that one.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by benjamindees (441808) on Monday July 04, 2011 @05:46PM (#36656166) Homepage

    As Woodrow Wilson warned, there is a military-industrial complex.

    Wilson helped create the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower is the one who warned about it.

  • by rwade (131726) on Monday July 04, 2011 @06:03PM (#36656256)

    China does not by any means have a lock on rare earth production [wikipedia.org], with wikipedia reporting the following:

    China now produces over 97% of the world's rare earth supply, mostly in Inner Mongolia, even though it has only 37% of proven reserves.

    There are two things going on here:

    1. China's paucity of environmental considerations in resource extraction
    2. Cheapness of transport (electronics factories using rare earths are closer to Inner Mongolia than mines in South America)
    3. High mining know-how of Chinese
    4. High availability of cheap chinese labor

    On #1 -- Indeed mining for rare earths in the US is expensive because of workplace and environmental health regulations, but it can be had for some price. If China restricts supply, price will rise and US mines can reopen while meeting rigorous US standards for environmental sustainability of rare-earth mining operations.

    On #2 -- if China wants to restrict supply, that's fine -- but they're own factories are probably close to the world's largest users of rare earths for electronics. So it's not as if we won't be able to get our iPods.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jbengt (874751) on Monday July 04, 2011 @06:56PM (#36656528)

    Alternatively, let's put our technological well-being in the hands of a country that has shown little compunction in using its dominance to screw with any other country that gets in its way.

    TFA stated that:

    China's apparent monopoly of rare earth production enabled it to restrain supply last year during a territorial dispute with Japan.

    but omitted the fact that that "monopoly" had been created and sustained by undercutting the prices of other sources, not by being the only possible source. There are plenty of sources for rare earth elements with proven production capacities that will be available when China inevitably restricts exports or raises prices. The ocean floor is just another possibility, but one where the costs are not yet known.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Informative)

    by the linux geek (799780) on Monday July 04, 2011 @07:06PM (#36656580)
    After all, the PRC has never fought a war, and they certainly never make aggressive moves against India, Russia, Japan, the legitimate Chinese government, the Philippines, Vietnam...

When I left you, I was but the pupil. Now, I am the master. - Darth Vader

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