It Takes More Than Being a China Hawk to Produce Rare Earth Metals
Source: Foreign Policy, Steve LeVine (4/30/12)
"Continued delays to developing REE projects show that there will be more to establishing a balanced rare earths supply than mere anti-Chinese rhetoric."
Twenty months after China began to ratchet down its exports of rare earth elements (REEs), the first new Western-run mine is more or less ready to crank out refined metals used in high-tech products including wind turbines, electric cars and missiles. But a delay in Malaysian permission to start the refinery illustrates how the West got into this fix in the first place—rare earth mining is among the dirtiest and stigmatized enterprises on the planet.
Australian-run Lynas has been the most aggressive Western company working to pivot off of draconian export reductions imposed by China in September 2010. The result is its rare earth operations in Malaysia. It has been mining tons of ore in Australia in preparation for refining in the Malaysian town of Gebeng—it expects the ore to yield a relatively high 7.9% of rare earth metals. But the refinery has been the subject of fierce public Malaysian protests and government permission to open it has not yet been granted.
A mine in California called Mountain Pass used to be the world's biggest rare earth mine—until it was discovered that there had been enormous spills of radioactive waste-laced water into Ivanpah Dry Lake. The environmental backlash, in addition to plummeting global prices for REEs, resulted in the mine closing in 2002. . .View Full Article