China's Rare Earth Cutbacks Aren't Just About Making More Money

China Water Pollution

China, by far the world’s leading rare earths producer, has cut back its exports significantly over the past 12 months. But it’s not just because the country wants to make more money on what it exports.

The Asian giant has been scaling back its rare-earth mining projects over risks to the environment, according to Asia Sentinel.

The rare-earth industry produces five times more waste gas than all the miners and oil refiners in the U.S. and produces 13 billion meters of gas and 25 million tons of waste-water with carcinogenic metals including cadmium, according to Asia Sentinel. The article reports that the produced water isn’t treated properly and often contaminates potable water and the water used in irrigation.

China’s change of heart hasn’t caught on around the world however. Molycorp Inc. is set to re-open a mine in Mountain Pass, California that was closed nine years ago because of risks to the environment. Australian firm Lynas Corp. is pushing for a $595 million processing plant in Malaysia for ore shipped from Australia.

And it makes business sense for others to pick up where China left off. Prices of rare earth minerals have doubled since China enforced restrictions on mining, according to Bloomberg. Dysprosium oxide used in magnets and nuclear reactors have jumped to $1,470 a kilogram from a price range of $700 – $740 at the start of June. Europium oxide which is used in plasma TVs cost about $3,400 a kilogram up from $1,260 – $1,300.

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