Rare Earths: Stop the Dependency

English: These rare-earth oxides are used as t...

Rare-earth oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium. Category:lanthanides (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Rising Tensions Over China’s Monopoly on Rare Earths?”
Jane Nakano

East-West Center
May 9, 2012

I remember when I was growing up in Southern California how my father, who had little interest in world events normally would wax passionate about what we then called Zaire, or the ex-Belgian Congo. Dad’s foundry specialized in high-value investment castings made from an alloy of cobalt and nickel. Cobalt, critical to the defense and medical industries, was sourced primarily from Zaire. No cobalt, no business.

Strategic materials and their vulnerability have been an issue for the nations of the Earth for at least the past century. The Japanese, arguably went to war not just for oil but for scrap iron and bauxite (the latter used to make aluminum.) Historical perspective is of little comfort when the material on which your business, your industry, or your country’s future depends is now controlled by someone who may not like you very much. Such is the case today with rare earths.

In a well-argued paper, Jane Nakano warns Japan and the United States not to depend on a WTO ruling to help loosen China’s tightening grip on its supply of rare earths. If nothing else, she notes, the time spent waiting for a ruling would be better spent searching for alternative sources and preparing for the inevitable increase in rare earth prices.

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