In DepthEnvironment

Politics could upend global trade in rare earth elements

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Science  12 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 114-115
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6436.114

Summary

The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, a facility in Malaysia that produces 10% of the world's output of rare earth oxides (REOs), may have to close. The Malaysian government has asked Lynas, the Australian company that owns the plant, to ship its radioactive waste back to Australia if it wants to renew its operating license, which expires on 2 September. The company the deadline is "unachievable." The standoff has worried many countries hungry for REOs, which are needed in technologies including mobile phones, hard drives, fiber optic cables, surgical lasers, and cruise missiles. A shutdown would strengthen China's position as the dominant supplier of REOs, which many countries deem a strategic risk.

  • * Yao-Hua Law is a science journalist in Kuala Lumpur.