You can’t handle the truth (about rare earth elements)
If you need to know one thing about rare earth metals, it’s that they’re crucial to modern technology, helping power everything from MRI machines and satellites to headphones and nuclear reactors. If you need to know two things, it’s that despite their name, they’re not at all rare.
This second fact is crucial when putting recent headlines about these 17 oddly named elements in proper context. Last week, many publications covered the news that a Japanese team of scientists had found a huge trove of rare earth elements off the coast of the country’s Minamitori Island. Some 16 million tons were estimated to be lurking in the deep-sea mud, enough to meet global demand on a “semi-infinite basis,” said the researchers.
This news was positioned as having great geopolitical significance. China currently produces more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth materials (the exact figure tends to fluctuate year-by-year), and in the event of a conflict, said reports, it could jack up prices for the West and its allies, or even shut them out altogether.
In this eventuality, the Minamitori hoard would be a lifeline. “It is important to secure our own source of resources, given how China controls the prices,” Professor Yutaro Takaya Waseda, who led the Japanese research team, told The Wall Street Journal.
But experts say the narrative here is wrong. Despite appearances, the Minamitori find is not as significant as headlines have implied. And although China seems to wield great power over this critical global supply chain, the truth is that the country can’t just bring the West to its knees by limiting the export of rare earth elements.
For the rest of this article: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/17/17246444/rare-earth-metals-discovery-japan-china-monopoly