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Vast Amount of Rare Metals Found Off Remote Japanese Isle

More than 230 million tonnes of managanese nodules have been found off Japan’s most eastern island, according to a survey team, who said work to extract the rare minerals will begin next year


An aerial view of Minamitori-shima (formerly Marcus Island) and a runway built for a former US Coast Guard station. Its only inhabitants now are Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force members and other government officials (Wikipedia, 1987 image).

 

More than 200 million metric tons of rocks rich in manganese and rare metals, such as cobalt and nickel, used in lithium-ion batteries, have been found on the seabed off a remote Japanese island.

The discovery was revealed by the Nippon Foundation non-profit group and academics from the University of Tokyo last Friday, after a survey of an area at depths of about 5,000 metres in the country’s exclusive economic zone near Minamitori Island (known locally as Minamitori-shima).

A team of researchers led by Yasuhiro Kato, a professor at the university, estimates there are 234 million metric tons of managanese nodules in the 10,000-square-kilometre survey area, according to a report by Kyodo.

 

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Minamitori is Japan’s most eastern island. This map, by the International Institute for Law of the Sea Studies, shows the ocean area claimed by Japan.

 

“Based on an analysis of samples collected, the team estimates the deposit contains around 610,000 tons of cobalt, enough to support Japan’s consumption for approximately 75 years, and around 740,000 tons of nickel, equivalent to around 11 years of domestic consumption,” it said.

The volumes were believed to be enough to fund commercial extraction and refining.

“These resources are crucial for economic security. We aim to lift 3 million tons annually, proceeding with development while minimizing the impact on the marine environment,” Professor Kato, who specializes in resource geology, was quoted as telling the press conference.

The spherical nodules, which ranged in size from a 5cm to several tens of centimetres in diameter, form when iron and manganese oxides dissolve in seawater around objects such as stones and teeth from a giant prehistoric shark known as the megaladon. They also contain copper.

The large amount of manganese nodules were initially found during a survey of the area in 2016 by a team with researchers from the university and other groups.

The area is remote – 1,848km southeast from Tokyo – in Japan’s easternmost island, as seen on the map above.

Work to extract the minerals will start next year, and while it could be expensive, special excavation equipment has already been designed to help remove the nodules from the seabed.

Japan and its allies in the Quad group have been keen to find new sources of rare earths and other key minerals like these, as China has long dominated that sector.

 

  • Jim Pollard

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.

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