[Japan] Govt aims to commercialize seafloor mining in 2020s (The Japan News – February 22, 2015)

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The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government is aiming to commercialize the mining of rich seafloor deposits around Japan of such mineral resources as copper in the 2020s, according to officials.

The nation has relied on imports to meet demand for mineral resources like copper, lead, gold and silver since many domestic mines were shut down by the end of the 1970s. Mining these resource-abundant seafloor deposits could help shake off Japan’s reputation as a nation with few resources.

At a press conference at the end of January, Tetsuro Urabe, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, could hardly conceal his excitement. He was announcing the discovery of a deposit about 1,400 meters below the ocean surface off Okinawa Prefecture’s Kumejima island.

“The minerals there are of a quality I’ve never seen before,” Urabe said. “One could say this discovery is astonishing.”

The research was conducted by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) using a remote-controlled vehicle, which retrieved six samples of ore with copper concentrations 15 to 30 times higher than those mined in South America.

Because the deposit could extend over a large area, JOGMEC believes there is potential to extract as much copper as a midsize mine on land.

The government intends to conduct a full-scale survey of the Kumejima deposit, officials said.

In Japan, a state-of-the-art research vessel with large-scale drilling systems was developed in 2012. The 118-meter-long, 6,283-ton Hakurei has helped improve, among other things, the accuracy of seafloor research using sonic waves, JOGMEC said.

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