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Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages
The Guardian Weekly
From the air it looks like a huge lake, fed by many tributaries, but on the ground it turns out to be a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world, collectively known as rare earths.
The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is the largest Chinese source of these strategic elements, essential to advanced technology, from smartphones to GPS receivers, but also to wind farms and, above all, electric cars. The minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, 120km farther north, then brought to Baotou for processing.
The concentration of rare earths in the ore is very low, so they must be separated and purified, using hydro-metallurgical techniques and acid baths. China accounts for 97% of global output of these precious substances, with two-thirds produced in Baotou…
Towards the end of the 1980s, Li explains, crops in nearby villages started to fail: “Plants grew badly. They would flower all right, but sometimes there was no fruit or they were small or smelt awful.” Ten years later the villagers had to accept that vegetables simply would not grow any longer. In the village of Xinguang Sancun – much as in all those near the Baotou factories – farmers let some fields run wild and stopped planting anything but wheat and corn…
(7 August 2012)
Reports: China moves to further restrict rare-earth exports
China has today launched the world’s first exchange for rare-earth metals, at the same time as revealing plans to cut supplies of rare minerals by 20 per cent.
The government said the restrictions, which follow a series of moves to curb the supply of rare earths and metals, are necessary to raise environmental standards across the mining sector and protect limited resources.
However, the news is likely to raise fresh concerns in the US and Europe that China is restricting exports of metals that are crucial to a wide range of electronic and clean technologies, including wind turbines, solar panels and hybrid cars…
(8 August 2012)
Google-Backed Asteroid Mining Venture Attracts Billionaires
Jesse Riseborough and Thomas Biesheuvel, Bloomberg
Planetary Resources Inc., an asteroid-mining venture backed by Google Inc. (GOOG) executives, said it added more billionaire investors and is nearing a partnership agreement with a “top-10” mining company.
Planetary Resources has “new billionaires to add to the list we’ve announced,” co-founder Eric Anderson said in an Aug. 3 telephone interview, declining to identify them. “There are a number of other people you know who’ve decided to come on board as investors. We’ve got a lot of people who are committed to the long-term cause.”
The venture said in April it has the backing of Ross Perot Jr., Google’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, Chairman Eric Schmidt and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Co-Chairman John C. Whitehead. The company aims to be the first to harness potentially trillions of dollars of minerals including platinum group metals by using robotic technology to mine asteroids.
(7 August 2012)
The mind boggles. – SO