Rare earth minerals found in Japanese island's mud could drastically transform global economy, claims study

Tokyo: An estimated 16 million tonnes of mud containing massive, "semi-infinite" stores of valuable rare earth minerals, found in a small Japanese island in the Pacific Ocean could alter global economy, a new study has revealed.

Japanese flag. Getty

Japanese flag. Getty

According to the study published by a team of Japanese researchers, this huge patch of mineral-rich deep sea mud lies near Minamitori Island, 1,200 kilometres off the coast of Japan, reported CNN.

Rare earth minerals contain elements used in high-tech devices like smartphones, missile systems, radar devices and hybrid vehicles. For instance, yttrium, one of the metals included in this recent discovery, can be used to make camera lenses, superconductors and cell phone screens.

The 16 million tonnes of materials could contain 780 years worth of yttrium, 620 years worth of europium, 420 years worth of terbium and 730 years worth of dysprosium.  In other words, it "has the potential to supply these materials on a semi-infinite basis to the world", the study said.

According to the US Geological Survey, while the minerals are relatively abundant, they have "much less tendency to become concentrated in exploitable ore deposits", making a find of this scale even more important.

"Most of the world's supply of (rare earth elements) comes from only a handful of sources", CNN quoted a USGS report as saying.

China currently holds a tight grip on the rare earth minerals: Controlling about 95 percent of global rare earths production as of 2015. Because of this, Japan and other countries rely on China to set prices and availability.

However, Japan has complete economic control over the new supply, and the study said all indications are the new resource "could be exploited in the near future".

Even though Minamitori Island is more than a thousand miles away from the Japanese capital, it is still technically a part of Tokyo, in the village of Ogasa.


Updated Date: Apr 17, 2018 19:08 PM

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