Japan eyes rare earths cache on sea bottom

April 2, 2013 at 6:24 PM

TOKYO, April 2 (UPI) -- Japanese researchers say China's virtual monopoly on rare earth elements could be weakened following the discovery of vast deposits on the Pacific Ocean floor.

About 97 per cent of the world's supply of the elements vital to many technologies -- from LCD screen to batteries in hybrid cars and other electronics -- comes from China.

Yasuhiro Kato and colleagues at the University of Tokyo -- who two years ago announced the discovery of muds rich in rare earths below international waters -- say a new discovery of such resources has been made inside Japan's exclusive economic zone so the nation will not need to negotiate mineral rights, NewScientist.com reported Tuesday.

Japan presently imports more than 80 per cent of its rare earths from China.

When China restricted its exports of rare earths in 2010, skyrocketing prices ensued in Japan.

If Japan could produce 10 per cent of its own rare earths requirements, Kato said, China would have to lower its prices.

"This is a very effective resources strategy," he said.

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