By on June 29, 2012

For two years, the world was worried about a possible rare earth shock, triggered by the crafty Chinese. As they are withholding the dirt that is essential for magnets, motors, and generators, an electrified world will go on its knees – or so the theory went.

The opposite happened. Right when everybody was ready to blame the high prices of EVs and hybrids on the Chinese,  prices of rare earths crashed. Small miners went belly-up. And now, shockers of shockers, The Nikkei [sub] says that Japan found 200 years’ worth of rare earth near an island. Even bigger shocker: The island is not on the China side of Japan, it’s in the Pacific.

300km (186 miles) off the coast of Minamitori Island, high concentrations of rare earths were found, including dysprosium, used to enhance the performance of motor magnets. Two small problems: The rare earth is at a depth of 5,600m (18,400 ft). The island itself is more than 1,000 miles away from Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean. However, the island and all the islands of the chain are Japanese, as a matter of fact, the islands count as a part of Tokyo. Minamitori itself is the size of a small airport, actually, that’s all it is.

Last year, rare-earth deposits were discovered in international waters. This is the first time a possible deposit has been found in Japanese waters, and it is in waters the Chinese don’t claim as their own. After WWII, the island was under U.S. control until 1968, when it reverted back to Japan.

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17 Comments on “Take That, China: Japan Finds 200 Years’ Worth Of Rare Earth...”


  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    Meh… even when in waters China does claim as their own, the Japanese will find a way to say it’s theirs.

    East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere rebooted.

    • 0 avatar
      daveainchina

      Huh? Don’t you have that Backwards where the Chinese will claim it’s theirs?

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        It don’t matter either way, they will take over the world, eventually. The west has slowly transferred its wealth to the middle and far east.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        Really nobody has any good claim to the ocean so it’s all predicated on who has more weapons, or political influence, or some combination of both.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Island grabbing? From China?

        Wahahahahahaha!!!!! HohohohoHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Weeeeeeeeh… haha…hah. hah… hah…

        I haven’t heard a joke that funny in a long time. With China claiming every island and atoll in the South China Sea… even those hundreds of miles outside their territorial waters and within spitting distance of other countries, it’s funny to hear that situation flipped around.

        Yeah… everyone in the Pacific is picking on the poor, defenseless Chinese. Now pull the other one.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I thought California had sufficient amounts of rare earths, as noted in an article I believe was on TTAC a year or so ago.

    Everything else rare winds up out there, that’s for sure…

    • 0 avatar

      A quick search shows recent discoveries in California, Montana and Brazil, besides on the ocean floor.

      There are great resources at the bottom of the oceans. Perhaps in our lifetimes we’ll see some of those resources mined.

    • 0 avatar
      fisher72

      Well, sorta. The rare earth mine in Mountain Pass California does have a large supply, and even a stockpile of ore mined. The problem is they cannot process it due to environmental problems with radioactive Thorium as part of the mineral structure. This mine has been closed/opened/limbo and on and on and is at last I knew closed.

      There is also a project mining rare earths in Australia, and shipping it to Korea for processing into ores and metals.

      One of the problems is not all rare earth minerals (monozite or bastnisite) have the same composition of rare earth elements contained. They will have one half of the elements in the lanthanides and be missing the other half. Yeah, I deal with monozite all the time at work at a quartz mine, it is a problem for us, and not in enough quantity to mine on it’s own, and would again have to deal with the Thorium problem.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    We may find it at the bottom but it’s going to be expensive even if we have unblocked access.I calculated it once or twice for a class but won’t today, however, the pressure is tremendous (expensive). I think I know that salt water is about .445 psi/ft and the PSI is tremendous at any depth. There is technology to defeat that but it is laborious and expensive always.

    Someone said recently that our best resource could be the junkyard for many things. That is also slow and laborious and it’s hard to find someone who will even recycle computers.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Minamitori Island is better known to students of WWII history as Marcus Island. Marcus Island is most notable for being as close to the middle of nowhere as just about any place on earth. Whereas most Pacific islands of note are surrounded by many other smaller islands, Minamitori/Marcus is pretty much there by itself, at least 600 miles from any other significant land mass.

    The USS Enterprise first raided Marcus Island on March 4, 1942 in one of the first offensive actions by the US Navy. Marcus Island was spared invasion by the US because it was just far enough from Japan to be passed up in favor of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Its small size also limited its potential as an advanced base.

  • avatar
    wc1972

    What a misguided story.
    The matter of fact is, China had 80% of the rare earth of the world, but sold it “dirt” cheap, until China had only 30% left. Therefore China could hardly be called crafty, as matter of fact, China was extremely dumb.
    What would American do if the American has a resource that the whole world can’t live without, but American has 80% of it? Will they sell then for $10,000/ton, or make them one thousand times more expensive?
    Not to mention that countries like Japan pretty much dumped the rare earth they bought as deposit, smart, eh?

  • avatar
    keyman

    At 5000+ meters depth, there’s no way to mine that on a mass scale with today’s technology. 200 years’ worth of rare earth supply for Japan? Perhaps, but not before a 200-year wait until the deep sea mining technology is caught up. Until then, keep buying the Chinese rare earth (if they can get it) and pray for the reopening of US and Australian mines. Excuse me, but are these Chinese rare earth magnets in your Pruis?

  • avatar
    RHD

    The US has something the world pretty much can’t live without: US dollars. We blithely ship them to China in massive quantities, in exchange for tacky, shoddy holiday decorations, cheap clothing and pretty much everything that we used to manufacture here.


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