Photo: Wikimedia Commons
People have this misconception about rare earth metals that only China has them, and that its China’s lockdown on them that makes them such a good investment/bet going forward, especially since so many modern technologies rely on them.But part of that is wrong. Lots of places around the world have rare earth metals. It’s just that only China produces them, because it’s generally disregarded the safety/environmental aspects of them.
The NYT reports that one of the biggest names in the space — Australia’s Lynas — was just halted in Sydney trading, as an operation in Malaysia has come under government scrutiny, and will require engineering changes.
But the construction and design may have serious flaws, according to the engineers, who also provided memos, e-mail messages and photos from Lynas and its contractors. The engineers said they felt a professional duty to voice their safety concerns, but insisted on anonymity to avoid the risk of becoming industry outcasts.
The problems they detail include structural cracks, air pockets and leaks in many of the concrete shells for 70 containment tanks, some of which are larger than double-decker buses. Ore mined deep in the Australian desert and shipped to Malaysia would be mixed with powerful acids to make a slightly radioactive slurry that would be pumped through the tanks, with operating temperatures of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
So you see, it’s not that rare earths are are. It’s that they’re really messy and hazardous (you can tell this, by the way, to any obnoxious Prius owner you come across). As long as China is more lax about this stuff than anywhere else, China will rule the rare earth world.
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