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China corners world 'rare earth' supply

Sept. 1, 2010 at 7:02 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- China's monopoly on elements used in computer disc drives, electric cars, military weapons and other key products could mean a crisis for the West, experts say.

China's control of the supply of most of the world's "rare earth" elements, and its increasingly hard-line stand on limiting exports, could create a supply crisis for the United States and other countries, an article in the magazine Chemical & Engineering News says.

China has cornered the global market on the family of chemical elements used in devices like lasers, computer memory, batteries and superconductors and produces most of the world's supply, the magazine says. China has been raising prices and restricting exports since 2005, most recently this year.

One U.S. response is a plan to boost domestic supplies. U.S. authorities are reconsidering reopening the largest U.S. rare earth mine at Mountain Pass in Southern California, dormant since 2002.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are among the government agencies involved in seeking solutions to a possible supply crisis, the magazine says.

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