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The Bulletin

Japan discovers massive rare earth deposit

Posting in Energy

For the second time this month, Japan has made an important natural resource discovery.

Japanese researchers say they have found a massive rare earth deposit on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The deposit, according to AFP, is 20 to 30 times more concentrated than Chinese mines, the world's largest rare earth supplier.

Why is this important? For one, these precious metals are used in high-tech manufacturing. The computer or phone you're reading this from is brought to you by rare earth metals. The other major reason is that this find could break up China's rare earth monopoly. It controls about 90 percent of the global supply and has been somewhat of a rare earth bully, banning exports as it pleases. (Though those restrictions have led to industry innovations.)

The big question will be if Japan can find a cost-effective way of extracting the minerals that are nearly 20,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. If it figures out that puzzle, there are an estimated 6.8 million tonnes of rare earth materials waiting on the seabed -- that's equal to 230 years of rare earth use in Japan.

Photo: Flickr/buck82

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— By on March 21, 2013, 3:20 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure