A Canada-based company recently announced its plans to develop a rare earth mineral mine in Greenland. Materials from the mine will be sent to Estonia, which has one of only two plants outside China that processes rare earths to a high degree.
Rare earths are a group of minerals used in making electric vehicles, wind turbines, electronics, robots and other machinery. China currently processes about 85 percent of the world’s rare earths. But increased demand is pushing companies to look for other sources.
Neo Performance Materials is based in Toronto, Canada. The rare earth processing company said recently that it plans to develop the Sarfartoq deposit in southwest Greenland. It will then send the materials to its plant in Estonia in Eastern Europe.
Neo aims to have the mine running in two to three years. It will be the company’s first big mining project. Constantine Karayannopoulos, the company’s chief said that by opening the mine, he hopes to protect the company from fast-moving rare earth prices, which have increased in recent years due to supply problems and strong demand.
“We’re at the mercy of the market,” he said. “At the mercy of” is an expression that means you are in a position or situation in which you can be harmed by something you cannot control.
Karayannopoulos called his company’s decision “business, not geopolitics.” But in recent years, rare earths have attracted the attention of officials around the world. The United States, Europe and Japan call their dependence on China’s rare earths a “national security risk” and have tried to find different suppliers.
But such efforts have faced difficulties, as mines in other countries have faced opposition or failed to start after changing prices scared investors away.
Concerns and supply issues
Meanwhile, supplies of rare earths have decreased. And some mines are raising moral and environmental concerns.
When done cheaply, rare earth mining can damage the environment. China, the world’s largest miner, has closed many mines in recent years to reduce environmental damage.
Some of that mining has gone to Myanmar. Myanmar mines are linked to environmental damage, land theft, and financing of militias, including at least one linked to Myanmar’s military government. That information comes from an Associated Press investigation released earlier this month.
The AP traced rare earths from Myanmar to the supply chains of 78 companies, including major car makers and electronics companies.
Karayannopoulos said that in Greenland, the company plans to dig up rock, crush it and do basic processing that does not involve the use of damaging chemicals. The ore will then be shipped to Estonia, where it will be further processed into a form that can be used to make magnets.
Plans for another rare earths mine in Greenland failed after voters put in power a government that blocked development. The area has high amounts of uranium, raising concerns over how radioactive waste would be dealt with.
Karayannopoulos said the area his company plans to develop has much lower levels of uranium, meaning it can be mined under current Greenland and European Union rules. He said EU officials supported the project because it could help Europe become more self-sufficient in rare earths.
Greenland sits between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A 1.7 million-square-kilometer ice sheet covers 80 percent of the Arctic territory. Greenland’s 56,000 residents are mostly indigenous people.
I’m John Russell.
Dake Kang reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
deposit – n. an amount of a substance (such as oil or coal) that exists naturally in the ground
dependence – n. the state of needing something or someone else for support, help, etc.
self-sufficient – adj . able to live or function without help or support from others