Govt cracks rare earth cases

Updated: 2012-08-02 09:37

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou (China Daily)

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A number of operations that were illegally storing and processing up to 1,000 tons of rare earth valued at several hundred million yuan was discovered last week.

The government of Lianping county, Heyuan, Guangdong province, said on Tuesday that it received a tip-off which led to the discovery of two warehouses and a factory in two villages in Zhongxin town illegally storing and processing rare earth.

Local police detained four people and are still looking for other suspects.

Xing Jianjiang, deputy director of the Department of Land and Resources of Guangdong Province, and his team supervised the crackdown at an illegal rare earth mining site in Potou town, Lianping county.

The Longchuan county government also busted nine outlets illegally mining, processing or trading rare earth in Heyuan city, and seized more than 100 tons of fully or partly processed rare earth products.

Forty-five suspects and one official alleged to have been shielding the criminal activities were taken into custody, the government said.

Cases of illegal rare earth mining were also discovered in the cities of Shaoguan and Meizhou earlier this year.

Proven deposits of ion-absorbed type rare earth in Guangdong are among the largest in the country. The Guangdong provincial committee of the China Democratic League advised the government to strengthen the management of rare earth mining in its proposal to the annual full session of the provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference last year.

Unlicensed mining is a serious problem in the province and has seriously harmed the environment, the proposal said.

Last year, villagers protested the environmental pollution caused by illegal mining of rare earth in Luhe county, Shanwei.

The province's top leaders gave instructions on investigating and handling illegal mining in the county.

The mines are spread across a wide area in Guangdong, which makes them difficult to monitor, said Xiao Fangming, director of the Guangzhou Research Institute of Non-ferrous Metals, adding illegal mining and smuggling produce high profits. The rare earth is also very easy to extract, Xiao said.

He suggested strengthening the supervision of the rare earth separating plants in the province, which have a combined capacity of about 15,000 tons a year.

The government has approved rare earth mining of 2,000 tons of oxides a year in Guangdong, but actual mining exceeded 40,000 tons due to illegal mining, Shen Shaomei, an official with the provincial department of land and resources, was quoted as saying by China Land and Resources News last year.

Shen said strong overseas demand was causing the illegal mining.

In February, the rare earth office of the provincial government required all localities to enhance the supervision of rare earth mining, and the Guangdong Rare Earth Industry Group was founded.

Rare earth metals are vital for manufacturing an array of high-tech products, including cell phones, wind turbines, electric car batteries and missiles.

China is the world's largest producer of rare earth, providing more than 90 percent of supplies with only 23 percent of global reserves, according to the country's first white paper on the rare earth industry released in June.

The government is strengthening the management of the industry to protect the environment and resources.

Shu Meng contributed to this story.