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China nationalizes eleven rare earth mines for environmental and strategic reasons

Michael Gorman, @Numeson
January 21, 2011
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Most of our favorite gadgets are constructed with parts made of rare earth minerals, and as many of you already know, China produces the lion's share of the stuff. So news that Hu Jintao and company recently took control of 11 rare earth mines in order to more tightly manage the mines' production is of great interest to hi-tech companies and consumers the world over -- and could mean your next hybrid, smartphone, or PC just got a bit more expensive. The Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources indicates that nationalization of the facilities was prompted by illegal strip mining and dumping of toxic tailings in nearby waterways, but given China's pledge to reduce rare earth exports by ten percent this year, it seems likely that the move isn't entirely driven by environmental concerns. Consumers needn't worry too much, however, as Japan and the US are currently searching for ways to break China's monopoly on rare earths and keep us flush in affordable flat-screen TVs and hybrid cars for years to come.

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