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Japan China Science Technology

Major Find By Japanese Scientists May Threaten Chinese Rare Earth Hegemony 189

Posted by samzenpus
from the spread-the-wealth dept.
cold fjord writes "It looks like deep sea exploration may pay off big time as Japanese scientists have located rich deposits of rare earth elements on the sea floor in Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone waters, following up on their find two years ago of huge deposits of rare earths in mid-Pacific waters. The cumulative effect of these finds could significantly weaken Chinese control of 90% of the world supply of rare earth metals, which the Chinese have been using to flex their muscles. The concentration of rare earth metals in the Japanese find is astonishing: up to 6,500 ppm, versus 500-1,000 ppm for Chinese mines. The newly identified deposits are just 2-4 meters below sea floor which could make for relatively easy mining compared to the 10+ meters they were expecting... if they can get there. The fact that the deposits are 5,700 meters deep means there is just one or two little problems to resolve : 'A seabed oil field has been developed overseas at a depth of 3,000 meters. . . But the development of seabed resources at depths of more than 5,000 meters has no precedent, either at home or abroad. There remains a mountain of technological challenges, including how to withstand water pressure and ocean currents and how to process the mining products in the ocean, sources said.'"
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Major Find By Japanese Scientists May Threaten Chinese Rare Earth Hegemony

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  • Herm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:41AM (#43270031)

    ...the Chinese don't have a monopoly exactly. They just undercut the prices any time anyone else tries to operate. I don't know why that wouldn't work against the Japanese as well. But the Chinese can't do it forever, and we all benefit from their cheap REM in the meantime.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Chinese have the best military in the world...

      It can be said that when their soil runs out of resources, Taiwan, Japan or Korea, can become a substitute with just a bit of persuasion from PLA troops.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Please define "best military" in this context.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          False, North Korea (best Korea) has best military!
      • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:15AM (#43270409)

        The Chinese have a lot of soldiers, but no where near the best military.

        All three of those are under the protection of the actual best military in the world. China will not risk a shift ass kicking by the USA and her allies.

        • by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:29AM (#43270569) Homepage

          The Chinese have a lot of soldiers, but no where near the best military.

          All three of those are under the protection of the actual best military in the world. China will not risk a shift ass kicking by the USA and her allies.

          Just like the Korean War. Oh wait.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The Chinese have a lot of soldiers, but no where near the best military.

          All three of those are under the protection of the actual best military in the world. China will not risk a shift ass kicking by the USA and her allies.

          When the enemy has a near inexhaustible supply of men, a large and relatively easily dispersed armaments industry, a vast expanse of territory in which to bog your troops down in asymmetric warfare (which into the bargain is a Chinese national sport) and a complete disregard for casualties I think you''l find quantity trumps quality. Try to imagine Iraq, except an couple of orders of magnitude bigger against an enemy that can manufacture his own small arms, guided munitions, tanks, aircraft and even nuclea

          • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Funny)

            by Githaron (2462596) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:46AM (#43270793)
            Sounds like the Protoss versus the Zerg.
          • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Informative)

            by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@nOSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @10:07AM (#43271035) Homepage
            Only if you're invading China in a ground war. They are not able to move their troops effectively via sea and could not effectively invade Japan; hell, they couldn't invade Taiwan.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Never get involved in a land war in Asia...

            • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:58PM (#43273691)
              The Chinese have invaded Taiwan several times. Koxinga did it successfully with a relatively small force in 1661, and Chiang Kai Shek did it again in 1949 (and yes, that was an invasion, since the islanders didn't want him there and his forces proceeded to initiate a political persecution rivaling the mainland's in viciousness if not scale that lasted generations). The reasons the communists couldn't immediately invade Taiwan were many, though primarily it was because they first had to consolidate their power on the mainland vs. remaining resistance pockets and they had to rebuild a navy since the KMT had taken as much of it as they could (which they used to harass the nascent PLA navy and merchant marine as much as possible, retarding immediate growth). By the time the communists were ready, geopolitics had shifted such that the US was ready to support Chiang and the KMT for the foreseeable future.

              Today the PRC has the capacity to invade Taiwan absolutely, but they don't want to risk war with the US to do it, especially since they've figured out they can just buy people like Ma Ying Jeou to secretly dismantle ROC sovereignty in closed-door meetings. Reunification lies down that road, but it will be on the PRC's terms, by and large.
          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Try to imagine Iraq, without the need to invade.

            A war like this would simply be about containment. Sink any ship they sail, and shoot down any plane that leaves their airspace.

            Once cutoff from outside support the chinese will soon find themselves short on oil and coal.

            • And you think the Russian Federation would just shrug its shoulders? They and virtually every other nation that borders China, except maybe India, would be wholly complicit in land-based resupply.
        • Maybe YOU should define "best military". Time and again, our military is sent overseas to - do what, exactly? Make the world a safer place? To police? To win hearts and minds? To build nations? And, when was our last victory?

          Even when we actually win a military encounter, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, our politicians leave the military machine in place, in pursuit of impossible peripheral missions. In a war of attrition, being best is pointless. The numbers will win, eventually.

        • China will not risk a shift ass kicking by the USA and her allies.

          Yeah I bet they're still running scared after their little experience in Vietnam. Oh wait...
          Yeah but that was 40 years ago, America is hell good at war now dude. Just see Afghanistan for example. Oh wait...

      • by hodet (620484)
        You are thinking confrontation when the real players would be better off thinking cartel. Why fight when they can all get rich?
    • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Luckyo (1726890) on Monday March 25, 2013 @10:23AM (#43271227)

      Not just prices. Mining and refining rare earths is exceptionally toxic and polluting process. Like most such processes, it has been largely outsourced to poorer countries, in this case China.

      If we REALLY needed rare earths, there's a lot of them across the world. We just don't want the toxicity and pollution that goes with mining these in our back yards.

      • Re:Herm... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday March 25, 2013 @06:10PM (#43277009)

        Mining and refining rare earths is exceptionally toxic and polluting process.

        Based on the way they do it now, yes. But it doesn't have to be. we've proven that you can mine an area for valuables, then restore the environment to its previous ecological state after. No toxic sludge. No buried waste. After you've taken what you want out, you put the leftovers and some filler back in. The reason it's toxic and polluting is because it's more profitable to be toxic and polluting, not because it's not feasible.

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          Problem with this approach is that there are few if any chemical processes that would not have extremely toxic by-products in rare earths mining. Environmentalists like to claim that they exist, but they usually either simply do not work at all, or have severe caveats attached that environmentalists tend to just ignore because they're not in line with ideology.

          Also, when you "put things back in", what exactly do you do when these things seep into ground water and poison the area? I have barely any knowledge

    • A big part of it has nothing to do with scarcity of "rare earths". From what I recall, "rare earth" simply means it is rare to find them in concentrations such as deposits or veins and the like. It also has little to due with "resource" cost.

      The mining cost, specifically the environmental cost of that mining is why China is #1. No one else whats to mortgage their environmental future.

      Not only is it a very dirty to extract (see lots of extraction for little material), but in order to process (see sorting all

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They're simply called that. The reason why the Chinese has a huge monopoly is their cheap labor and lack of safety regulations. The US had plenty of mines for this stuff but they were shut down due to the cheap abundant supply.

    • by Thud457 (234763)
      yeah, yeah. And Monster Island is really a peninsula. And Camelot is only a model. Tell us something we don't already know.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:44AM (#43270079)

    We have plenty of rare earths in the USA. Only the absurd policies regarding treating thorium (which has a 14 billion year half life) as a dangerous nuclear waste, requiring prohibitively expensive disposal, keeps us from taking advantage of those resources. note: Coal fired power plants get to treat the radioactive nuclear material in their fly ash as a natural byproduct and so are completely unregulated.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:50AM (#43270833) Homepage Journal

      Google "rare earth thorium regulation". Usually, anti-regulation whining like this gets plenty a mention in right-wing think tank-funded articles and political editorials.

      This one gets YouTube propaganda from the thorium reactor proponents and some of their websites. Why is it that, at least in terms of web presence, the only people concerned about this care more about thorium than rare earth minerals?

    • by PRMan (959735)

      From Wikipedia:

      Powdered thorium metal is pyrophoric and will often ignite spontaneously in air. Natural thorium decays very slowly compared to many other radioactive materials, and the alpha radiation emitted cannot penetrate human skin meaning owning and handling small amounts of thorium, such as a gas mantle, is considered safe. Exposure to an aerosol of thorium, however, can lead to increased risk of cancers of the lung, pancreas, and blood,[citation needed] as lungs and other internal organs can be penetrated by alpha radiation. Exposure to thorium internally leads to increased risk of liver diseases. Thorium is radioactive and produces a radioactive gas, radon-220, as one of its decay products. Secondary decay products of thorium include radium and actinium. Because of this, there are concerns about the safety of thorium mantles. Some nuclear safety agencies make recommendations about their use.[85] Production of gas mantles has led to some safety concerns during manufacture.

      Maybe not so absurd...

      • I guess you missed the "[citation needed]" part of the Wiki entry...
      • by khallow (566160)
        Come on. These rare earth mines aren't going to concentrate a bunch of thorium and burn it or dump it in some building's air ventilation system. It'll get dumped in a tailings pile or pond, and pretty much sit there until such time as thorium actually becomes a valuable element to extract.
  • Dejavu (Score:5, Informative)

    by SirDrinksAlot (226001) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:47AM (#43270107) Journal

    Seems like this just tells us the concentration, otherwise we already knew this in 2011.

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/07/04/2058218/japanese-team-finds-new-source-of-rare-earth-elements [slashdot.org]

  • how to process the mining products in the ocean

    Oh, that? By polluting a lot. :p

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm fairly sure that the reason China controls 90% of the market is because they're actually mining their deposits, not because they are the only ones who have deposits. I think there are plans in the U.S. to restart some mines, and surely this is the case elsewhere too. There was a time when it was very uneconomical to run these, so they were mothballed.

  • Senkaku islands (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KiloByte (825081) on Monday March 25, 2013 @08:56AM (#43270199)

    Cue China's claim these areas "have always belonged to China", like Senkaku Islands, in 3.. 2... 1...

  • >> rich deposits of rare earth elements on the sea floor in Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone water

    Good thing no one's ever disputed ownership of an island two-thousand miles away from the mainland, right?

  • Rare earth refining (Score:5, Interesting)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:02AM (#43270243)

    Anyway, I thought the problem wasn't finding the deposits (they're everywhere, and rare earths aren't that "rare").

    The problem here is competing with China's willingness to pollute the absolute living fuck out of their own back yard, to refine the ores cheaper than everyone else.

    If Japan and the West wanted to do something REALLY useful -- find refining methods that are less polluting and resource intensive -- or find substitute substances and processes to avoid the need for rare earth metals completely.

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      problem here is competing with China's willingness to pollute the absolute living fuck out of their own back yard

      or they could just set standards, for the minerals they Import, except they can't because they're signed up to wto which bars them from using trade barriers even when they are justified

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dripdry (1062282)

      it's not just that. The rare earths in China don't have to be refined as much as the stuff found pretty much everywhere else on earth. I don't remember the term, but a metallurgist friend explained it to me once, saying that hands down China is at the front of the pack because of this.

      So, I'd be interested to know if the rare earths (and I know, there are many substances under that umbrella) found here are of a similar purity to the ones in China or the ones in the States.

  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:02AM (#43270249)
    The issue with rare earth metals has never been access to them, contrary to the article, but cost. If it were simply a matter of access, the United States, Australia and other nations have massive supplies. However, producers in those nations were driven out of business because the cost of extracting them in a clean, (relatively) environmentally friendly manner was simply not competitive with the Chinese, who can afford to undercut foreign producers due to their notoriously lax environmental regulations. Now this new methodology may be helpful in that it drives down the cost of production to become competitive again, but I am concerned that it may create tremendous environmental damage.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Well, the answer is right there, given sufficient time the problem will solve itself due to toxic build up. Eventually the deposits in China will become unworkable due to the lethality of the environment and the impossibility of cleaning it up. 15,000 dead pig agree? with this outcome, considering the level of corruption, what really killed and contaminated them to the point where they couldn't be corruptly slipped into the system. The cost of cleaning this crap up can often far exceed any revenue generate

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:16AM (#43270417)

    The problem with rare earths is that they are usually found in conjunction with radioactive ores, particularly containing thorium.

    This makes recovery and refining a nasty and if you insist on environmental safety a quite expensive job.

    China has been willing to do it on the cheap for the rest of the world. More recently they have realized that other nations have been exporting their environmental issue to China by buying cheap Chinese rare earths. This is coming to an end as China sensibly restricts exports of these materials.

    • by Duhavid (677874)

      "More recently they have realized that other nations have been exporting their environmental issue to China by buying cheap Chinese rare earths"

      China has been importing the environmental issue to China by

      1 mining in environmentally un-friendly ways and
      2 price the results in a way that makes hard for others to mine competitively.

      I am not sure how casting it as "poor, poor China" is appropriate.

    • > China has been willing to do it on the cheap for the rest of the world. More recently they have realized that other nations have been exporting their environmental issue to China by buying cheap Chinese rare earths. This is coming to an end as China sensibly restricts exports of these materials.

      Economics of the moment is all it is. A few years from now and the price of this shit will go up to the point where a serious look will be taken at refining it domestically while the Chinese refuse to roll over

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Recent advances in power electronics mean that Switched Reluctance motors are better for EVs and windmills, and cheaper.
    http://powerelectronics.com/content/case-switched-reluctance-motors
    http://www.radicalrc.com/blog/?p=2513

  • This is exactly why not to base your currency on gold. If someone finds a huge new deposit, your currency goes in the toilet.
    • by erroneus (253617)

      I seriously doubt enough gold could be located on the planet to change the value of gold significantly.

      Part of gold's value is perception anyway... kind of like diamonds, or the US dollar.

      • The way I like to think of it is that the dollar is based on the value of the citizens of the United States, and what could be more valuable than that? Also, asteroid mining
  • Glomar Explorer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by A10Mechanic (1056868) on Monday March 25, 2013 @09:48AM (#43270811)
    Finally another use for the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a ship built in the 70's under the guise of underwater mining but actully used by the CIA to raise a sunken sub. My daily dose of Irony is now complete.
    • by dave1791 (315728)

      When I saw this headline, my snarky alter ego asked if the Chinese had lost a sub in that area. The Glomar Explorer was my first thought.

  • Probably not news many people here are aware of, but China, and in some cases Russia, have been claiming islands owned and even occupied by Japan are theirs. Most significantly, China claims Okinawa and asserts that Okinawans are genetically Chinese.... therefore... well you get the idea.

  • "Japanese scientists have located rich deposits of rare earth elements .. The cumulative effect of these finds could significantly weaken Chinese control of 90% of the world supply of rare earth metals, which the Chinese have been using to flex their muscles."

    How is China forcing the US to buy cheap rare earth elements from China? link [minyanville.com]
  • Again the unfortunate name of this group of elements comes back to bite us. Rare earth elements are not rare, they simply don't occur in high concentrations. There are exploitable deposits all over the world, but nobody wants to mine them because the process of extracting what you're after makes a big mess. That made China the perfect place for RE production because until recently they didn't seem to care about that.
  • Seafloor mining has been talked about for decades, but hasnt gone anywhere. besides rare earths, there may be large concentrations of more conventional minerals.
  • All these years I was under the assumption
    Rare Earth came from Motown.
    Oh well.

  • by sesshomaru (173381) on Monday March 25, 2013 @06:19PM (#43277071) Journal

    The Chinese haven't been using "rare earth hegemony" to flex their muscles. The Chinese have correctly identified rare earths as an important strategic resource, and therefore aren't in a hurry to sell them at bargain basement prices to whoever wants them.

    This of course, has put the people who like buying rare earths cheaply into a snit, and caused them to put their spin machine into action to demonize this as some kind of belligerent act.

  • Japan, Philippians, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and all other local Island Nations fall in Chinese territorial waters; Therefor, they are part of China. Also, China's Pacific economic zone includes Midway and the Hawaii Islands; Hence, China can fish-out those waters to feed China. Who pwns UBaby? CHINA!

    Any attempts by Japan or others to mine rare earth metals in the China Sea [AKA: South Pacific] or the Pacific China economic expansion zone will be removed forcefully from the Pacific.

    Have a very nic

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