Japan Ups The Rare Earth Element Stakes.

Japan has made yet another end run around China’s control over rare earth elements access. This follows on from China’s invitation last week for western firms to partner up with Chinese firms inside China to get access to the freer REE supply and lower prices available to Chinese firms. We covered that in “China’s REE Spider.”  The answer from Japan at least, would seem to be “we’ll pass on that.”

Below today’s report in Japan’s Sunday press as reported by Reuters. In another of my all too many failings your editor can only read English, however, I’ve no reason to doubt Reuters translation. Japan it seems, will be going to Kazakhstan for its dysprosium, starting as earlier as this summer.

Japan, Kazakhstan to develop rare earth metals: media
Reuters. April 29 2012.
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and Kazakhstan plan to sign an agreement to jointly develop rare earth metals critical to electronics and auto makers, aiming to lower dependence on China, the Asahi Shimbun daily said on Sunday.

Japan’s Trade Minister Yukio Edano will meet Kazakh government officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev, to sign the agreement in early May, making way for Sumitomo Corp, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp and Kazatoprom to partner in rare earth extraction, the paper said.

Higher prices of rare earths from China are squeezing Japanese manufacturers of batteries and electronics, forcing them to cut usage and seek alternatives.

Japan and Kazakhstan will build a plant in Stepnogorsk, northern Kazakhstan and use technology developed by Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. to isolate dysprosium, used in motors for electric and hybrid cars, from soil processed for uranium, the paper said.

The plant will go onstream as early as this summer and ship 30 tonnes of the material to Japan this year, with shipments to rise to more than 50 tonnes next year, the paper said. Japan’s annual demand for the element is roughly 500 tonnes.

With China’s leadership preoccupied with a murder scandal involving the family of one of “the princelings, an escaped dissident hiding in the American Embassy, and a coming generational power transfer towards year end among the Communist Party of China, it will be interesting to see Beijing’s response (if any.)

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