THE BATTLE FOR THE METAL
In the years that followed the closure of Mountain Pass, China began to strategically kill off competitors, by taking control of the raw materials whilst simultaneously flooding the market with their own low-priced rare- earth elements that made it difficult for other producers to compete with. This created fissures between those that have access to these rare elements, and those that do not. China has been using its monopoly control over rare- earth metals to threaten and pressure its rivals. In 2010, the country quietly cut rare earth exports to Japan due to a territorial issue and detention over a Chinese fishing trawler captain, even though Japan had been the main buyer of rare- earth elements from China for many years. The blocking of these exports was a blow to Japan as they were crucial categories of minerals needed for the production of products such as hybrid cars, guided missiles and wind turbines. The control China has over the vast majority of the world’s rare- earth reserves has caused tensions among many countries with industry officials expressing worries that Chinese export bans could have severe repercussions for various industries. The reliance companies have on the availability of rare- earth metals has put further emphasis on the importance of needing geographic diversity of rare- earth elements supplies and countries with no access to these rare metals now have to find new ways to mine and import the materials without having to rely so heavily on China.
Japan has been setting up separate rare- earth processing factories in Northern Vietnam as well as working with the US and Australia to facilitate the production of non- Chinese rare- earth elements. India, Canada and the US are all exploring different avenues to extract rare- earth elements efficiently and cost- effectively, and once an alternative is found, this will have the potential to halt China’s monopoly.
With some rare-earth elements, there is a high concentration of radioactive residue produced from the waste