Japan as recently discovered that one of its uninhabited islands (located some 790 miles off its coast) could contain as much as 16 million tons of rare earth minerals. Rare earth minerals are one of the most important resources in the manufacture of advanced electronics systems. The resource has been recently in short supply, due to China being one of the world's largest exporter. This newly found discovery is going to help stabilize prices and increase supply in the long run.
A few days ago, a small island (located near the Minamitori Island, found 790 miles off the coast of Japan) was analyzed by researchers, who concluded that the island's mud contains massive amounts of valuable rare earth minerals. Rare earth minerals are usually used as materials in electronics and other types of high-tech production facilities. For example, almost all hybrid vehicles use certain amounts of rare earth minerals to make their complicated electronics systems work.
The island is called Minamitorishima Island, and its weight is expected to be around 16 million tons. While that may not be a lot in the global scale of things, 16 million tons of rare earth miners has been called by researchers as a "semi-infinite" amount. The reason why is that electronics production only uses miniscule amounts of the miners, meaning just a few ounces may be enough to produce a lot of things - including batteries.
There are literally hundreds of different products that are made from rare earth minerals. For example, all of today's smartphones, radar devices, and hybrid vehicles use certain amounts and types of this rare type of resource. One such rare earth mineral is yttrium, which was included in the recent Japanese discovery, is essential in the construction of modern camera lenses.
16 million tons of rare earth minerals would theoretically contain 780 years worth of yttrium, 620 years worth of europium, 420 years worth of terbium, and 730 years worth of dysprosium - just imagine how many smartphones and camera lenses that could create. That is the reason why the researchers that have made the discovery are claiming that the amount found is "semi-infinite." Another important aspect regarding the discovery is that rare earth minerals area currently in short supply, making the act of selling them quite easily.
An even more important aspect of the recent discovery is the fact that rare earth minerals are currently in short supply, meaning prices are going up, and traders are willing to buy almost any amount offered. That means that once Japan starts to mine this island, they are going to have no trouble making billions of dollars of additional revenue.
Currently, the largest exporter of rare earth minerals is China, which has caused a lot of officials in the US and other countries to worry about the long-term dependency on a single source for such an important resource. Giving Japan the chance to export rare earth minerals is going make trade diversification easier, and help stabilize prices in the long-run. According to a USGS source, "Most of the world's supply of (rare earth elements) comes from only a handful of sources."