Shot Down — China Intercepts North Korea Bound Vanadium Shipment

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Minor Metals

Yesterday, a story hit the Reuter’s wire that China had intercepted over 150 pounds of vanadium destined for North Korea. China customs agents found the material at a border crossing tucked under fruit in a produce truck, local reporters suggest. Vanadium, a rare earth metal, is banned from North Korea thanks to U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to cut off the North’s arms trade, according to Reuters. Besides being one of the hardest metals, what is Vanadium and why should we care about keeping it out of North Korea’s hands?

According to the Vanadium Producers Reclaimers Organization, the metal is a critical enabler of lightweight weapons systems when alloyed with steel (vs. conventional carbon steels). The association suggests that vanadium enables higher strength steel ” allowing up to a 40% reduction in mass for equivalent strength in equipment and structures. Today, Some quantity of vanadium is used in virtually every structural application in the military where steel products are employed.   For instance, The US military has been using vanadium to either increase armor or reduce the weight of current combat vehicles, tactical vehicles, tactical bridges, material handling equipment, aircraft, watercraft, rail, trailers, steel structures, and virtually every application involving the use of steel.

When it comes to advanced weapons applications, vanadium, when alloyed with titanium, is commonly used in nuclear applications, missile casings and jet engines. In other words, not only is it a metal that North Korea needs to build and sustain its own military industrial complex for domestic defense purposes, it’s an essential metal required for numerous applications in North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons proliferation efforts.

One wonders how much of the material China knowingly (or unknowingly) lets across its borders and why, in this case, they opted to announce the interception of it.

Jason Busch

Update: For additional musings on the trade and policy implications of this seizure as well as China/North Korea relations, get on over to MetalMiner affiliate site Spend Matters which just covered the story from a different angle.

Comments (4)

  1. Joe says:

    If China is smart, China should completely ban the export of any rare earth metal to any country.

    However, I think China is too stupid, and Chinese are too greedy, rare earth metal will always be trafficked out at a obscenely penny price!!!

  2. Ralph Day says:

    If China is so dumb as youallge, how come she owns about 25% of the U.S. Bonds, has the largest standing army in the world, builds more machines to manufacture goods, heavy equipment, world’s biggest exporter, and has, not only a balanced budget, but a huge reserve–in other words, where we used to be?? HUH//

  3. I agree we need to keep vanadium out of the hands of any rogue state
    including North Korea. With as little as 0.09% vanadium increases the
    strength of steel by 50% – 100% which is extremely significant. The
    other reason for not letting them get vanadium is that its used to fuse
    titanium and tungsten to regular steel. This will disable them from
    being able to fuse titanium/tungsten plates to their military vehicles
    which are primarily steel. Their are many other reasons why we should not let this element get into the North Korean hands. If you would like to know more about vanadium a great resource to check out is Vanadiumsite. Read More about vanadium @

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