Oct 29/10 - Pt 3: Rare Earth Elements

China exports about 95 per cent of the world's rare earth elements ... a crucial feature of the global economy. But for about a week, it was refusing to ship them to the United States or Europe. And now some fear China might be hoarding a shrinking supply.



PART THREE

Rare Earth Elements - Jack Lifton

This is a story about economic brinksmanship, geopolitical intrigue and the periodic table of elements. We aired a clip from Sam Kean. He's the author of a new book about the history of the periodic table of the elements. It's called The Disappearing Spoon.

There are 17 rare earth elements in all with names such as cerium, terbium and sysprosium. Today, they sit tucked away in an obscure little corner of the periodic table but they play a crucial role in the global economy. Rare earth elements are essential for computer hard drives, cell phones, hybrid car batteries and lots of other things we take for granted. They're also necessary for refining crude oil. China exports about 95 per cent of all the rare earth elements in the world.

But last week, it stopped shipping them to the United States and Europe. And that sparked fears of a global shortage of rare earth elements and threatened to launch another stand-off over China's economic policy. Yesterday, China canceled its embargo so tensions have eased a bit, at least for now. But the whole experience has left a lot of western countries deeply worried about relying so exclusively on China for something they so desperately need.

For more on this, we were joined by Jack Lifton. He's the co-founder and Director of Technology Metals Research. He's also a mining industry analyst with a special interest in rare earth elements. He was in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Articles: China Is Said to Resume Shipping Rare Earth Minerals / Q+A: Why The Jitters About China's Rare Earths Exports? / China's rare earth exports under watch: White House / Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports

Rare Earth Elements - Donald Bubar

Even before China's embargo on rare earth elements, Canadian mining companies were angling to get in on the market. There are now 70 rare-earth exploration companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Prospecting is underway in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec. And last week, many of those companies saw their shares rise on news reports about allegations of Chinese hoarding.

Donald Bubar is the President and CEO of Avalon Rare Metals. It's a Toronto-based exploration company that owns a rare-earth element deposit in the Northwest Territories.

Last Word - Midterms Montage

We ended the program you with a primer on a story you're going to be hearing a lot about next week. On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls for mid-term congressional elections. And the results are widely expected to be bad news for President Barack Obama. So we ended this week with a brief history of President Obama's last two years.


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