David Kirkpatrick

September 27, 2010

China, already cracking the rare earth metal whip

Filed under: Business, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:57 pm

I know I’m over half a week late on this (and yes, I’m aware I haven’t blogged well over a week — been crazy around these parts of late), but since I covered the topic earlier this month I thought it was interesting it’s already hit the front pages.

The issue is China essentially controlling the world’s supply of 17 rare earth metals — critical for the manufacture of electronics and military parts, to name two key examples — and how that power might be wielded. I blogged that everyone fretting about Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasuries was completely misplacing their concern. That advice has already been borne out now that China has used that control as a political bludgeon against Japan. I’m betting this is just the opening kickoff of a very serious game of political football. (Couldn’t help the metaphor there, I’m still pretty excited the NFL season is in full swing.)

From the second link:

Sharply raising the stakes in a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain, the Chinese government has blocked exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles.

Chinese customs officials are halting shipments to Japan of so-called rare earth elements, preventing them from being loading aboard ships at Chinese ports, industry officials said on Thursday.

September 2, 2010

Food for not so easy thought

Everyone thought the biggest threat from China was the sheer volume of Treasuries held by that nation and the potential stranglehold it has over the U.S. economy. Realistically that has never been a real issue because as such a heavy investor in the U.S. economy, China has a vested interest in our financial sector remaining strong.

Now squeezing us on manufacturing vital elements of computing and electronics by taking complete control over rare earth metals is a different angle of attack altogether. You know the U.S. government is taking this very seriously when it has both the energy department and the DoD on the job.

The release:

China’s monopoly on 17 key elements sets stage for supply crisis

China’s monopoly on the global supply of elements critical for production of computer hard disc drives, hybrid-electric cars, military weapons, and other key products — and its increasingly strict limits on exports — is setting the stage for a crisis in the United States. That’s the topic of the cover story of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby and Contributing Editor Jessie Jiang explain that the situation involves a family of chemical elements that may soon start to live up to their name, the “rare earths.” China has virtually cornered the global market on them, and produces most of the world’s supply. Since 2005, China has been raising prices and restricting exports, most recently in 2010, fostering a potential supply crisis in the U.S.

The article describes how the U.S. is now responding to this emerging crisis. To boost supplies, for instance, plans are being developed to resume production at the largest U.S. rare-earth mine — Mountain Pass in southern California — which has been dormant since 2002. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are among the government agencies grappling with the problem.

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ARTICLE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Securing the Supply of Rare Earths”

This story is available at http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/88/8835cover.html

November 17, 2009

Nuclear power may not be the answer

Filed under: Business, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:11 pm

And the reason might really surprise you — we’re running out of uranium. There’s a lot of talk about building new nuke plants — an idea I like — to help wean the west off of OPEC, et. al. What may come as a shock to many is uranium, the power source for nuclear plants, is going to offer just as many headaches in terms of shortages and being beholden parts of the world with reserves as petroleum provides right now.

Looks like it’s time to redouble the alternative power efforts if we want energy relatively free of the whims of geopolitics.

From the link:

Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more.

August 12, 2008

Georgia and Russia

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:01 pm

I’ve avoided blogging on the subject to now, but I’ve found a very pragmatic and sensible list on this issue at Cato-at-Liberty.

Here’s a solid center-right/libertarian take on the issue by Ben Friedman.

From the link:

  • That neocons like Kristol are attacking the Bush’s administration’s reaction to this crisis shows how far the administration has evolved towards pragmatism. John McCain, on the other hand, continues to reveal a preference for military confrontation over safety.