China closes polluting rare earths mines

24th August 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Resource extraction ,
  • Electronics ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Prevention & Control



The Chinese government is shutting down facilities that extract rare earth elements, reigniting global fears over access to the precious metals.

China, which controls 95% of the world’s supply of the rare elements key to the production of electronic goods, has launched a nationwide inspection of rare earth mines amid concerns over their impact on the natural environment.

Rare earths are frequently extracted by small local farmers from open “leach” pits, into which water and chemicals such as fertilisers are poured dissolving the elements and separating them from the surrounding clay.

The pits are numerous across the Jiangzi province in Southern China and are often unlicensed. The new inspection campaign, which also sees the government offer substantial rewards to those who report illegal mining activity, began in Jiangzi and has already begun to shut down such operations.

The closures have sparked industry fears over supply shortages in the next couple of months and came as the Chinese government confirmed it is appealing the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) decision that China’s control of the world’s supply of rare earths contravenes international trade regulations.

In July, the WTO upheld complaints from European Union and the US that China’s imposition of quotas and duties on export last year was illegal.


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