An open-cast rare earth mine in Inner Mongolia. China produces more than 90% of the world's supply of the vital minerals. (File photo/CFP)
Japanese surveyors have announced the discovery of high concentrations of rare earth metals under the sea bed around the country's easternmost island, Minami-Torishima or Marcus Island, reports our sister newspaper China Times. The small island is located nearly 2,000 kilometers southeast of Tokyo.
The country's Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the University of Tokyo found the concentration of the minerals is ten times higher than the reserves in China, which is by far the world's largest supplier of the rare earth materials used in the production of hi-tech electronics as well as advanced medical technology and advanced weapons systems. The reserves should be sufficient to meet demand for over 200 years, the research team said.
The team found the concentration of rare earth metals reaches 6,500 parts per million, compared to the 500-1,000 ppm for China.
The minerals are spread around the ocean floor under more than 5,000 meters of water, according to the team. Japan has been seeking to avoid an over-reliance on China for imports, as supply can be affected by the often stormy diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Experts have expressed concerns however as to whether the costs of exploiting the discovery are viable, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.