China's Chokehold on Rare Earths Looms Large

Energy Department urges search for other sources of rare earths
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2010 11:46 AM CST
A copper mine owned by Zijin Mining Group is seen in Shanghang county in this file photo.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – China has the US by the throat thanks to its abundant supply of “rare earth” minerals that are needed to produce green products like compact fluorescent light bulbs, electric cars, and wind turbines, the Energy Department said in a report today. China produces 96% of the most crucial types of rare earth minerals, and yesterday announced that it would be increasing its export taxes (which are banned by the WTO) on them next year—just the latest export manipulation China has used to ensure its own manufacturers have a leg up in using the minerals.

The Energy Department report urges the US to increase research into ways to recycle the minerals or replace them altogether, and track down alternative sources for the minerals abroad, but estimates that it could take 15 years for the US to end its reliance on Chinese supplies, the New York Times reports. And while dozens of companies hope to open new mines in the US and abroad to tap into the crucial medium and heavy rare earths, the report notes that they face substantial legal, financial, marketing, and management obstacles.

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