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Japan to limit rare-earth mining to protect offshore deposits

JUNTARO ARAI, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — The Japanese government decided Tuesday to restrict access to the nation’s rare-earth resources to a roster of approved miners to protect offshore deposits within its exclusive economic zone.


Only operators licensed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will be allowed to mine rare earths. The plan was approved by a METI subcommittee Tuesday, with the legislative proposal to be submitted to next year’s regular parliamentary session.


At present, rare earths fall beyond the scope of Japanese law regulating mining. When the mining laws were originally written, policymakers did not foresee any domestic rare-earth development. But sediments containing high concentrations of rare earths have been discovered recently in coastal waters.


In addition, the government plans to allow the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) to invest up to 75% in mining projects. 


The government will also allow JOGMEC to invest in or grant debt guarantees to Japanese mineral-refining operations. Under the current law, JOGMEC can only support refining operations overseas, mostly located in China. By allowing JOGMEC to finance refining at home, Japan seeks to mitigate supply-chain risks.


As the world moves away from fossil fuels, the race has intensified for access to rare earths used for electric car motors. Demand for other mineral resources, such as lithium and cobalt used in storage batteries, has also skyrocketed.

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