A Rare-Earth Crisis?

Molycorp

Crushing facility for Project Phoenix at Molycorp.

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A somewhat obscure group of elements--the rare-earth elements--have suddenly become a political issue. Critical to the manufacture of high-tech devices such as smartphones, hybrid vehicle motors, wind turbines, solar cells, weapon systems, oil and chemical refining, and more, the rare-earth elements are increasingly in short supply and more expensive as these technologies proliferate. These elements are mainly produced and refined in China, which has recently warned of forthcoming export reductions due to increased domestic demand and restraints on production attributed to environmental concerns. In response to a perceived "rare-earth crisis," some analysts have called for restoring US domestic production of the rare earths, and for challenging China in the World Trade Organization. Others have suggested stockpiling and recycling programs. Join us for a discussion of the rare earths and the policy ramifications of their scarcity, geographic distribution, environmental impacts, and near-monopolistic market.
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