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China drafts plan to restructure rare earths industry
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China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has drafted a six-year plan for rare earth industry that advocates centralized development in a bid to protect the environment and conserve the country's rare earths resources, the China Business News reported Tuesday.

The plan calls for the number of enterprises engaging in mining and processing of rare earths to be reduced to around 20 through mergers, with the aim to phase out small, often unlicensed mines and curb the trend of low export prices of the precious minerals.

The proposed plan calls for exports be capped at around 35,000 tons per year in 2009-2015. Earlier, China's Ministry of Commerce limited the export quota of rare earths to 31,300 tons for 2009, down 8.3 percent from 2008, the newspaper said.

The production of processed rare earths will be limited to around 120,000 tons to 150,000 tons during the period, the report said.

The plan encourages the exports of new materials and equipment produced using rare earths, while restricting the exports of primary rare earths products, especially those with high added value, including europium, terbium, dysprosium, thulium, ytterbium and lutecium.

Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection has come up with a set of standards for waste discharges in producing rare earths products.

China has a proven rare earth reserve of 52 million tonnes, accounting for about 58 percent of the world's proven reserves, Xinhua news agency reported.

Currently about 60 percent of China's rare earths elements are exported and the country's production in 2005 accounted for 96 percent of the world total, the report said.

Rare earths are vital to many green energy technologies, including high-strength, lightweight magnets used in wind turbines, as well as military applications.

However, to get at the materials, powerful acid is pumped down bore holes. There it dissolves some of the rare earths, and the slurry is then pumped into leaky artificial ponds with earthen dams, according to an article by the New York Times on Tuesday, citing mining specialists.

(CRI September 2, 2009)

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