Japan Discovers Rare Earths in Jamaica

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | January 16, 2013 7:50 PM EST

Japanese researchers from Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. had discovered high concentrations of rare earth elements in the red mud of Jamaica, the latter's Minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining announced on Wednesday.

Philip Paulwell, Jamaica's minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining, said in a statement to Jamaica's Parliament that the rare earths discovered by the Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. can be efficiently extracted. In fact, he added, plans for a pilot extraction programme have already begun.

To facilitate the extraction, Nippon Light Metal committed to invest $3 million in equipment and buildings. The Japanese firm will likewise handle and manage operating costs, Mr Paulwell said.

Rare earths are essential 17 precious elements needed to manufacture a number of high tech gadgets today, including mobile phones, tablets, even household appliances and military weaponry.

Although rare earths extracted during the pilot phase will be jointly owned by Jamaica and the Japanese company, both are open to commercial the elements, but this will occur at a much later date.

"We are at the starting line of an opportunity that has the potential to redefine Jamaica's economic prospects in a positive way," Mr Paulwell told lawmakers . . . The government of Jamaica perceives the extraction of the rare-earth elements that are present in Jamaica to be an exciting new opportunity to earn much needed foreign exchange and create jobs." 

On January 2012, Jamaica was approached by Nippon Light Metal, claiming it had the capability and knowledge to mine the rare-earth elements it believed is present in the country's local red mud. It has been able to do chemical research and successfully extracted some rare-earth elements, Mr Paulwell said.

The discovery "has the potential to redefine Jamaica's economic prospects in a positive way," Mr Paulwell told Parliament.

Should the pilot project become successful, Nippon Light Metal targets to mine 1,500 metric tonnes of rare-earth oxides per year.

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