Japan, Kazakhstan unite on rare earths

Determined to rely less on China for its supply of the critical rare earths elements, Japan is set to sign with Kazakhstan on May an agreement to jointly develop rare earth mines mainly to exploit the rare earth metal dysprosium, a critical ingredient to electronics and auto makers.

Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Yukio Edano, Japan’s trade and industry minister, is scheduled to visit the central Asian country in early May. It is during this time that a rare earths agreement is expected to be signed with Kazakh government officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Once signed, the proposed rare earths plant will be built in Stepnogorsk, northern Kazakhstan. It will produce dysprosium, a vital rare earth needed to make motors of electric and hybrid vehicles as well as other electronic products.

Sumitomo, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National and Kazatoprom will be the partners in the rare earth extraction project between the two Asian countries. The joint mine development ensures that Japan gets to receive its more than 10 per cent annual dysprosium needs.

Expected to go online this summer, the plant will ship 30 tonnes of the dysprosium material to Japan this year. Shipments are likewise expected to increase to more than 50 tonnes next year, Asahi Shimbun said.

Japan requires 500 tonnes to 600 tonnes of dysprosium annually, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Japan Times reported.

Kazakhstan is believed to hold one of the world’s largest uranium and chromium deposits.

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