A “semi-infinite” amount of rare-earth minerals have reportedly been discovered near the coast of Japan, ensuring the country’s supply of the important resource for the next several hundred years.
The study, conducted jointly by Waseda University’s Yutaro Takaya and the University of Tokyo’s Yasuhiro Kato, was published in the UK journal Scientific Reports on April 10, Japan Times reports.
The findings revealed that millions of tonnes of rare-earth minerals happen to exist in the seabed off the Minamitori Island, located about 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo.
Rare-earth minerals are vital components in a variety of industrial developments. For instance, Europium, which is used in the development of phosphors, can also be used in quantum memory chips. It also has practical applications in the defense and nuclear technologies. Similarly, both terbium and dysprosium are important components in developing modern defense technologies and advanced magnets.
It is estimated that the deposit in the 2,500 sq km stretch of seabed contains 16 million tonnes of rare-earth oxides, with enough yttrium to supply local demand for about 780 years, europium for 620 years, terbium for 420 years and dysprosium for 730 years.
“This REY-rich mud has great potential as a rare-earth metal resource because of the enormous amount available and its advantageous mineralogical features,” according to the report.
Tapping such vast resource will negate the need for Japanese firms to import the expensive rare earth metals from overseas. The report further claims that the large deposit “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world”.
While the Japanese government is keen on tapping on the mineral resources, mining the seabed at depths near 6,000 meters poses an extreme challenge, especially since it is located in an extremely remote area of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Japan.
The discovery is reportedly a result of the government’s extensive efforts in scouring its territorial seabed for mineral deposits. The research team was comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions, including the University of Tokyo and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).
China currently produces a great majority of the rare earth element supply on the world market. Beijing’s near-monopoly over the resource has allowed it to control and even severely restrict its exports during times of diplomatic tension.
It was reportedly due to China holding back shipments in 2010 during a dispute over islands both countries claim that prompted Japan to start seeking its own rare-earth metals, Reuters reported in 2014.