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Rare earth metals at the heart of China's rivalry with U.S., Europe

27 Comments
By Ali BEKHTAOUI

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China has the largest deposits of rare earth minerals and could cause major problems for the west if it disrupted supplies. Hopes on America increasing production of their deposits.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The issue of access to rare earth minerals in China is only a concern for the US and Europe if they are planning WWIII with China to achieve US global hegemony.

Achieving disruption-free supplies would give the US a free hand to attack China.

How did the last world war work out in Japan?

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Plenty of other places these exist. Issue is the greater cost of digging them up. Which many multinationals are not prepared to pay. So they suck up to China.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Kaerimashita, I am afraid it’s not the multinationals that are not prepared to pay the price, it’s the consumers or did you ever hear of any product for that the manufacturer paid price increases for raw materials.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

China, NK and Afghanistan have the biggest deposits. Peru and Vietnam also have a bit.

i wanna but shares in the VietnamJapanese company. But No money. Anybody want to crowdfund me?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Not sure why they are called rare earth metals. They are not particularly rare. Every continent has deposits of them There is certainly no shortage of them in the deserts of the US. The reason China cornered the market is price. They were able to underprice everyone else and force them out of business. And while China is the worlds largest producer, about half the raw material they use comes from mines in northern Myanmar. This is a large part of the reason why the Chinese protect two large rebel armies that operate in Myanmar from bases in China. China wants to protect their access to the raw materials for their rare earth production. But none of that means this is the only game in town. Other nations have abundant supplies but China makes it uneconomical to produce these metals elsewhere.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The photo leading the article is a primary reason why China is able to undercut the price of other nations manufacturing rare earth metals. A smoke belching factory like that would never be allowed in any other developed nation. One wonders what ailments residents downwind of that plant suffer and how much the ground they grow their food on is contaminated by the crud coming out of that smoke stack?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

The issue of access to rare earth minerals in China is only a concern for the US and Europe if they are planning WWIII with China to achieve US global hegemony.

This isn't about war or achieving "US global hegemony" (which in case you haven't noticed it already achieved 30 years ago), its about the fact that China can just arbitrarily turn the rare earth metals tap off whenever it wants and that fact poses a threat to other country's economies which they want to avoid.

This is the same Chinese government that literally erased Winnie the Pooh from existence in that country because people started making fun of the fact that their leader has the same physique. I think its totally reasonable in this context for other countries to be concerned about the outcomes of a body with a decision making process which results in stuff like that and how it might affect them.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As Desert Tortoise touched on above, one equally important factor in China being allowed to dominate the market was the environmental impact. Most countries were happy to let China pollute herself, in exchange for cheap supplies.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

China has the largest deposits of rare earth minerals and could cause major problems for the west if it disrupted supplies. Hopes on America increasing production of their deposits.

China has the best industry to refine rare earth minerals at the cheapest prices and most efficient paces. Their refinement technologies are now more advanced than those in the West.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

China has the best industry to refine rare earth minerals at the cheapest prices and most efficient paces.

That is true. You can't just switch on processing for these "rare" earths as if you are manufacturing Nike Shoes. It's very very complicated and China is years and years ahead. If no trade with China then bye bye iPhones. Same with Taiwan with semiconductors. If something disrupts trade with Taiwan then the entire world is screwed. TSMC has about 50% of the market share of making chips for other companies like Nvidia. Setting up chip foundries is very difficult to do.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are large deposits of rare earth minerals outside of China. The problem is that the Chinese products are so cheap that the rest of the world has just relied on getting what they need from China, instead of making their own. If China shuts down the pipeline for these minerals, it is only a matter of time until the rest of the world makes up the difference by restarting the shut-down mines and factories. For instance, there are large deposits of lithium in California, but the mine was shut down because of low cost Chinese product.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

its about the fact that China can just arbitrarily turn the rare earth metals tap off whenever it wants

China can affect the west by withholding rare earth minerals but it can not play that card without facing the dire consequence of the west withholding iron ore to China. Both rely on huge imports from each other and it would be mutual suicide for each others manufacturing and construction.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can blame the global Left for this quandary. They are driving out mining in their own countries while pushing for technology to replace existing energy sources. They never think things through. This puts China in the drivers seat.

The best energy source to replace coal, oil, and natural gas is nuclear but they refuse to consider it - meaning they aren’t serious about saving the planet from global warming (BTW there is only nine years Left before armageddon). The don’t want rare earth mines in their backyards but demand the electric vehicles that require these substances for manufacturing.

It always amuses me that people believe that electric cars are saving the planet. They are toxic to dispose of and the electricity to charge the batteries is typically coming from a carbon based energy plant. At best it comes from a horrible nuclear plant. The West is becoming an Idiocracy.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

The best energy source to replace coal, oil, and natural gas is nuclear but they refuse to consider it

It's impossible to cover the earth with nuclear power. There is not enough development capacity for that. Japan is the only country that makes the steel components for nuclear reactors. Also, Trump is not smart enough to bring back this business anyway. Remember, he failed and went bankrupt and he even said that Mr. Clean cures COVID-19.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

These minerals are available in many other regions of the world including Canada and Australia even the USA.

But because China in reality has nearly zero environmental controls they produce this stuff at vastly lower prices as to the point mines in Canada, Australia and the USA mostly closed unable to compete.

The solution is simple, pass regulations banning all use of these products that are not mined and refined following safe methods.

This would eliminate the cheap Chinese products leading to more production in other regions with environmental regulations.

But yes there is a down side your iPhone, Samsung, etc.. phones, e-scooter, e-cars will cost more but if people want cleaner cars they should also want other cleaner stuff like cleaner safer production of rare earth products.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

For instance, there are large deposits of lithium in California, but the mine was shut down because of low cost Chinese product.

The mine you mention is at a place called Mountain Pass California right off I-15 on the way from Smell-A to Lost Wages. In the truth is stranger than fiction department that very same mine is now part owned by a Chinese company. The US Dept. of Defense dearly wants domestic supplies of rare earth metals but is prohibited from buying from a Chinese company. So there those mineral sit and the DoD can't buy from them until the US finds a way to entice that Chinese part owner to part with their stake in that mine.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The best energy source to replace coal, oil, and natural gas is nuclear but they refuse to consider it - meaning they aren’t serious about saving the planet from global warming (BTW there is only nine years Left before armageddon). The don’t want rare earth mines in their backyards but demand the electric vehicles that require these substances for manufacturing.

I tend to support nuclear power but every time I do something happens. Just today it was revealed a reactor in China has been having some sort of problem with "noble gasses" in the primary cooling circuit and a leak. The French builder and part owner were concerned enough with the Chinese majority partners inaction that they contacted officials in the US for advice. Talk about a hot potato! The possible reasons for noble gasses in the primary cooling loop creating a leak all point to some degree of material failure in the reactor core. Still, the Chinese do not want to shut the reactor down and have instead raised the acceptable limits on radiation release into the environment!

Human error, poor procedures and lousy judgement are at the root of most reactor mishaps. The staff of 3 Mile Island ignored a leaking valve for two hours allowing the core to run out of water (there was also a fatal flaw in the Babcock & Wilcox design that masked severity of the problem). The staff at Chernobyl over rode safety features leading to multiple explosions. TEPCO did a lousy job of protecting their reactors from a tsunami. If the auxiliary power generators had been on the bluff behind the plant instead of in the basement the plants would not have melted down. Now it appears the Chinese want to add their names to the nuclear walk of shame. The problem with nuclear power is that mistakes contaminate areas and make them unlivable for a very long time. It is tough to overcome the resulting fear. I don't think too many conservatives want to live downwind of a nuclear power plant either.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But because China in reality has nearly zero environmental controls they produce this stuff at vastly lower prices as to the point mines in Canada, Australia and the USA mostly closed unable to compete.

Look at the plant in the photo and tell us honestly, no snark, would you be willing to live downwind of it? There is merit to requiring businesses to clean up their emissions. Pollution is a real cost of production but when that pollution is allowed to blow in the wind like you see in the photo, the cost is not born by the manufacturer and customer but instead the cost is born by everyone downwind who suffers on account of the pollution. The people who buy the crops grown in contaminated soil also bear some of the cost of production as they eat a bit of the pollution from that plant with every mouthful. In effect those people downwind are subsidizing that factory by bearing part of the cost of production. In economic terms that is exactly how it works. The economically efficient solution is to find ways to internalize the costs of pollution into the price of the product. Doing so would very quickly eliminate China's competitive advantage, and save some lives.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

On the subject of nuclear accidents....

https://www.engineering.com/story/americas-worst-nuclear-disaster-was-in-california-who-knew

We used to live a few miles from America's first commercial nuclear reactor, in Los Angeles. It turns out that there were numerous nuclear meltdowns at the various plants in the area, none of which were reported to the public until a grad student accidentally found out about them decades later with her Freedom of Information Act search.

To this day the area is off limits due to radiation contamination. The meltdowns, besides exhausting radioactive material into the air, also put radiation into the groundwater.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Desert Tortoise

TEPCO did a lousy job of protecting their reactors from a tsunami. If the auxiliary power generators had been on the bluff behind the plant instead of in the basement the plants would not have melted down.

That is not the whole picture. Yes, the emergency generators were located in the generator room basement, below sea level, and when the tsunami hit and flooded them two TEPCO employees died.

Having the emergency generator located on higher ground would have been better. That would also have to include their oil supply tanks. In itself, it would not have prevented the meltdowns. The reactor buildings were not watertight and all the major electrical switchgear is located on the ground floor level and flooded out by the tsunami.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

1glenn

interesting link

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To this day the area is off limits due to radiation contamination. The meltdowns, besides exhausting radioactive material into the air, also put radiation into the groundwater.

Rocketdyne used to test Saturn V rocket motors at that site. Every Thursday afternoon right about our dinner time the whole house would sake for five or six minutes while they tested a rocket. The site wasn't always off limits after it closed down. I used to ride my bicycle up there on . It was a hard ride up Santa Suzan Pass, good exercise. Didn't know about the reactors then. Rode right by them on Box Canyon Rd. Probably explains a few things ......... Just saying ^_^

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The reactor buildings were not watertight and all the major electrical switchgear is located on the ground floor level and flooded out by the tsunami.

If you remember the cooling flow only stopped after the batteries powering the pumps were discharged. The cooling pumps still worked. If there had been working generators the melt downs and explosions would have been prevented.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The sound track of the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s was rockets being tested at the Santa Susana Test Site, sonic booms of military aircraft from various bases tearing around overhead (Blue Angels did supersonic airshows back then in F-4 Phantoms), C-97s and later C-130s operating from the Air National Guard base at Van Nuys Airport, the Lockheed AH-46 Cheyenne test helicopter pulling loops over our school (loops in a helicopter !) and Clay Lacy's bright purple pylon racing P-51 Mustang "Miss Omni" making hot laps of the Valley as he tuned it up for the next race. Recess and lunch time was an air show. Great fun for a kid.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you remember the cooling flow only stopped after the batteries powering the pumps were discharged. The cooling pumps still worked. If there had been working generators the melt downs and explosions would have been prevented.

The power from the emergency generators went to the rector buildings via switchgear. There was also no water which was lost because of power cuts. In the end, seawater was pumped in.

The reactor containment vessels cracked with the earthquake and were leaking cooling water. There wasn't enough power or water.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Desert Tortoise

Check out the wiring diagram

FIGURE 4.2 Schematic illustration of major safety systems in Unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. SOURCE: Courtesy of TEPCO.

https://www.nap.edu/read/18294/chapter/7#113

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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