On the other side of the pond, Europe appears to be coordinating efforts regarding identifying and developing strategies to counter the threat of supply disruption to critical metals such as Rare Earths. The project is being coordinated by the European Technology Platform on Sustainable Mineral Resources (ETPSMR) and is included in a wider review of metals and minerals. Ostensibly the project is to consider mining and refining opportunities within the EU borders but integral to that will be an evaluation of current supply options and, if internal resources do not exist then, possible alternatives to the current heavy supply reliance on China, Russia and former CIS member states. The challenge, as is often the case in Europe, will be in getting buy-in from the respective national organizations in the member states.
The EU commission produced a working document summarizing the issues facing Europe and highlighting the areas near total reliance on imports for a whole range of metals, minerals and raw materials including Rare Earths and minor metals. Some of the work draws on USGS research and suggests that a transatlantic or coordinated western approach to these issues could have merit.
We understand the move is probably coming from the French nuclear industry which is rumored to be worried about global supply shortages of critical metals such as zirconium, niobium and hafnium that are key to developing the commercial power generation industry. The French appear concerned that risks to metal supply could undermine the costs for major nuclear plants, an industry in which the French are arguably world leaders.
Whether the EU will manage the often fraught and complex task of getting all the national bodies to cooperate and look outside of their national priorities is as yet unsure but with such a long list of critical metals totally or near totally reliant on imports, the imperative could not be greater.
Our thanks to Ian Falconer of www.engagingenergy.com for sharing some of these thoughts and issues with us, we look forward to featuring content from Ian’s excellent website in the future.