Aerial view of Marcus Island and the runway which supports the US Coast Guard station located there. Marcus Island is the southernmost island in the Japanese chain.

Goodbye China? Minami Tori island off Japan finds huge treasure of rare earth materials

A rare form of mud found in a Japanese island may turn out to be a treasure for the future scientists and it consists of huge quantity of rare earth materials, scientists say.

With an estimated 16 million tonnes of mud, the massive, “semi-infinite” stores of valuable rare earth minerals in the island off Japan shores in the Pacific Ocean could alter global economy, said Japanese researchers. The huge patch of mineral-rich deep sea mud lies near Minamitori Island, 1,200 km off the coast of Japan.

Even though Minamitori Island is thousand miles away from the Japanese capital, it is still technically a part of Tokyo, in the village of Ogasawara, and falls within Japan’s economic borders or EEZ.

Rare earth minerals, used in smartphones and other high-tech devices like missile systems, radar devices and hybrid vehicles and China has been the only exporter and has long controlled these exports to Japan.

Yttrium, one of such metals can be used to make camera lenses, superconductors and cell phone screens and this is available in huge quantity in Japan now. The 16 million tonnes of mud in Japan’s island could contain 780 years worth of yttrium, 620 years worth of europium, 420 years worth of terbium and 730 years worth of dysprosium, said Japanese scientists.

Upbeat scientists declared that the island “has the potential to supply these materials on a semi-infinite basis to the world.”

Such concentration of rare earth material in one island is really rare, according to the US Geological Survey, which says though these minerals are relatively abundant, they have “much less tendency to become concentrated in exploitable ore deposits.” The new find and its huge scale is makes Japan new source of rare earth materials now.

Currently, only China holds a tight grip on the rare earth minerals — controlling about 95 per cent of global rare earths production as of 2015, which has caused concern for Japan and other countries which rely on China’s tight control over the price and availability.

Now that Japan has complete economic control over the new supply, the Japanese scientists are confident that the island could be exploited soon.​

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