Large deposits of rare earth metals — difficult-to-mine materials that are needed in many personal, commercial, and military electronics — have been discovered in Japan, possibly chipping away at China's near monopoly on the elements. The Telegraph reports that the newly found metals are in higher than usual concentrations and will be cheap to mine. Researchers in Japan discovered the deposits off of the country's Pacific coast, and intend to explore for another two years before scaling up extraction of the elements from the seabed.
China wants to force companies to stay within its borders
Around 95 percent of the world's rare earth element supply is controlled by China, which has previously ceased production to further raise the materials' value. The researcher leading this discovery, Tokyo University professor Yasuhiro Kato, said that China's restricted exports are meant to force companies to build inside of the country, where he believes that the state will steal their technologies. A relaxed reliance on Chinese exports could be a major boon for Japan, which uses half of the world's rare earth metal production, reports The Telegraph.
Increasing production of rare earth elements continues to be a concern for the United States as well. Earlier this year, the US Department of Energy granted $120 million to create an organization that would investigate new methods of rare earth element production. Though the elements aren't actually rare, they are generally found in tiny amounts and are expensive to mine. Increased earth metal exports from Japan could result in lower prices worldwide, if the country's newly found reserves can help to diminish China's monopoly.