Stirred up by the ongoing scuffle among the four economic leaders U.S., European Union, Japan and China plus the persisting reality that alternative suppliers are hard to come by, the two Koreas are mulling a joint development cooperation to mine rare earth metals in the North.
Manufacturers, users and researchers of rare earth elements from around the world have combined forces to create a Rare Earth Technology Alliance (RETA), and among its first plan of action is to map out an education and outreach strategy to enable its members cope with the supply shortages currently enveloping users of rare earths.
On Monday, Seoul daily Dong-A Ilbo reported that South Korea, led by representatives from its state-owned commodities firm Korea Resources Corp (KORES), went to the North in September and December for two rounds of government-approved talks with the latter's National Economic Cooperation Federation.
An unidentified KORES official confirmed the report. He said the discussions focused a potential graphite development project in the North that KORES had invested in a decade ago.
During the November visit, Kores even obtained samples of North Korean rare earths. KORES had the samples analyzed. "Some turned out to be good," the official said.
The project, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, has been stalled since 2010.
"Jointly developing rare earth mines is a possibility but the precondition is always this: an improvement in the North and South Korea relationship," The Wall Street Journal quoted the KORES official as saying.
But for now the potential project is on hold, he said. It is believed the talks got suspended following the political changes in Pyongyang due to the death of leader Kim Jong Il on Dec 17 last year.
"The North strongly proposed that the two Koreas jointly develop coal mines as well as rare earth metals," www.zeenews.india.com quoted another unnamed source.
According to the Dong-A Ilbo report, North Korea holds at least 20 million tonnes of rare earth deposits. South Korea estimates the mineral deposits found in North cost $6.09 trillion dollars.
KORES invested in 2003 some $5.5 million to jointly develop a graphite mine in the North. The project, with a capacity to produce 3,000 tonnes of graphite per year, was seen to enable Kores take half of the annual produce for 20 years, The Wall Street Journal reported.
To date, KORES has only collected 850 tonnes of graphite.
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