From LiveScience by Jeremy Hsu
A nasty trade dispute appears to have prompted Chinese customs officials to block shipments of rare earth minerals to the U.S.
The move underscores a deepening U.S. vulnerability because of its dependence upon China for tech-crucial rare earth minerals (also known as rare earth elements). Small but significant amounts of the minerals go into creating everything from PCs and cellphones to wind turbines and hybrid cars, as well as U.S. military technologies such as missile guidance systems.
This latest news came from three rare earth industry officials cited by the New York Times. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from China.
China currently controls about 97 percent of rare earth production.
U.S. rare earth companies have begun looking to reopen old mines and search for new deposits, but industry experts say that relaunching an independent U.S. supply chain could take 15 years.
The latest Chinese action follows a similar move last month, when China halted shipments to Japan during a political dispute over Japan’s arrest of Chinese fishermen. Among the affected Japanese companies was Toyota, maker of the popular Prius hybrid cars which incorporate the rare earth element neodymium, among others.
So the big green quandary is: Prius, or practice what you preach and do without?
Addendum – This license plate I photographed on California’s Interstate 5 back in 2008 may prove prescient: