Our glittering game machines and our shiny gadgets aren't made possible by merely fancy tech and electricity. They are here because minerals called rare earths, which are found in rich sludge and mud. Currently, China controls over 90 percent of the world's current supply of rare earths. That, however, could change.
China's current dominance is, as previously pointed out, one reason why the iPad must be made in China—and probably a reason why many electronics are now made in China at facilities like Foxconn (above, pictured).
This week, Japan's NHK reported that a University of Tokyo led research team discovered a 6.8 ton rare earth deposit in a seabed near the island of Minamitorishima, which is located in Japanese waters. This isn't more than the 13 million tons of rare earths that exist in the US, but according to University of Tokyo professor Yasuhiro Kato, it's enough to supply the country with 227 years worth of electronics and hybrid car batteries. It's enough for Japan to break free of China.
This latest discovery comes as both the U.S. and the European Union are asking the World Trade Organization to end China's monopoly on rare earths. Tensions are even spilling over into the virtual world: upcoming video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, is centered on a future conflict over rare earths.
This latest discovery is also a huge boom for Japan—a country that imports 60 percent of China's rare earths and a country with limited natural resources. While last summer, Japan discovered rare earth deposits in international waters, this is the first large scale rare earth discovery of its kind on Japanese territory.
Environmentalists worry that mining could disrupt sea life, but if Japan is able to safely extract the minerals, it could rely on itself for the creation of electronics and batteries—for the next two centuries.
Scientists in Japan discover rare earths in Pacific Ocean east of Tokyo [Japan Daily Press]
Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Southern city in China, Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (Kin Cheung | AP)