Two monumental milestones had happened in the third week of October in the global commodities sector, namely uranium and rare earths. Jamaica has opened its first rare earths extraction plant, while Greenland has repealed its two-decades-old ban on uranium mining.
Japan and Jamaica on Monday have formally launched a pilot project to test the commercial viability of the island's bauxite waste, more known as red mud, for possible rare earth elements. Credit: Wikipedia/Materialscientist; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rareearthoxides.jpg
A project with Japan, Jamaica's extraction plant meant to pull out rare earths elements from bauxite waste in the red mud of Jamaica, which is abundant in the Caribbean island.
Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. of Japan, Jamaica's partner in the US$500 million rare earth elements pilot project, holds a technology patent specifically meant to for the commodity from red bauxite residue.
"The Jamaican red mud is very excellent compared to the other red mud all over the world, so we chose Jamaican bauxite," Tsuyoshi Kawarasaki, project operations manager, told the Jamaica Observer during the plant's launch on Tuesday.
Mr Kawarasaki likewise said Jamaica's red mud deposits actually has higher concentrations of rare earth elements, which meant stiff competition to other rare earths producers, most noteworthy of which was China.
Rare earth elements are used to manufacture a number of high-tech gadgets and equipment, including smartphones, plasma screens, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, digital cameras, hybrid cars, wind turbines, and satellites. China controls more than 90 per cent of the world's rare earths supplies.
"Our target is Dy, a material or manganate only found in China. China is controlling the market, so we must compete with them," he said.
Parris A. Lyew-Ayee, Executive Director of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) in Hope Gardens, St. Andrew, said the commercial stage of the project will begin by February 2014.
"We are in the commissioning process and we hope by the end of next week the commissioning will be successfully completed. Then we go into the actual pilot stage, which will go through to February or early March next year," he stated.
"We have always identified the rare earth in our bauxite; the trick was always 'how do you make money from it? How do you extract it?' This is what this project is about and this is why we have to keep it very, very close to our chest, because we want to get the maximum out of this," he said.
Some 30 metric tonnes of dry red mud from various mining areas will be processed in the plant.
Once found commercially viable, the project could potentially give Jamaica billions in foreign exchange.
Greenland Allows Uranium Mining
Meanwhile, the parliament of Greenland has repealed a two-decades-old ban on uranium mining.
Voting narrowly by 15-14 in favor of the repeal, Greenland's parliament on Thursday explained the revocation of the 25-year old ban was needed to lunge the country forwards towards economic improvement and supremacy.
"We cannot live with unemployment and cost of living increases while our economy is at a standstill. It is therefore necessary that we eliminate zero tolerance towards uranium now," Aleqa Hammond, Greenland Prime Minister, was quoted by local newspaper Sermitsiaq during the parliament debate.
However, whatever hopes for an immediate Chinese and Australian business entry to mine the country's abundant mineral resources was quelled on Friday by Nick Haekkerup, Denmark's foreign trade minister. Mr Haekkerup pointed out that Denmark handles Greenland's security and foreign policy, thus effectively telling interested investors on Greenland should first seek Denmark's approval. Greenland is a semi-autonomous portion of Denmark.
"Concrete actions on the mining and export of uranium will potentially have far-reaching implications for foreign, defence and security policies and are as such a matter for the Kingdom," Mr Haekkerup said in a statement after the vote in Greenland's parliament.
Denmark imposed the uranium ban in Greenland in 1988. Greenland wants to use its mineral resources to reduce economic dependency from Denmark.
Greenland has abundant resources of uranium as well as rare earth elements in its southern portions.
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