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Mining in Space – The Next Frontier?

from TheDiplomat.com: Off-Earth mining is no longer science fiction. Pacific Rim countries lead the way.


Given the rising global demand for rare-earth elements (REE) and the
necessity to synthesize exotic materials for numerous high-tech
applications, extra-terrestrial mining is likely to become the next race
in space.



REE are used in state-of-the-art electronics, nuclear technologies,
lasers, super-magnets and green-energy technology. China, the world’s
largest producer of REE, restricted its abundant supplies globally
in 2009, citing the need to protect the environment. In fact, it was
the mismanagement of reserves and increasing domestic high-tech
production that compelled Beijing to cut REE exports from its Bayan Obo
mining district.



In response to Beijing’s move, REE consumers and electronic
manufacturers like Japan, the U.S and South Korea accelerated
terrestrial exploration of reserves to maintain their industrial
supplies.



In 2011, Japan succeeded in discovering REE in ocean-bed deposits in its Pacific Exclusive Economic Zone. Apart from exploration, the Japanese trading firm Sumitomo Corporation created a joint venture
– Summit Atom Rare Earth Company – with Kazakhstan’s state-run nuclear
agency KazAtomProm, to extract REEs from the abundant uranium tailings
in Kazakhstan. In 2012, the U.S-based Molycorp Inc. resumed operations
in the long-closed Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine in California to meet
domestic demand in the civilian and defence sectors. South Korea has entered into an agreement on REE prospecting with Kyrgyzstan – probably one of the largest such projects in this unexploited mineral-rich nation.



Countries like India, Canada, Tanzania, Australia, Brazil and Vietnam
have started prospecting and mining REE within their own jurisdictions;
Australia has the largest mine outside China, at Mount Weld.

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