By Jacob L. Shapiro
It is exceedingly rare for a scientific study about deep-sea mud in the Pacific to have geopolitical import. But then, we live in crazy times.
Nature – one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals – published a paper on April 10 analyzing a deep-sea mud patch near Minamitorishima Island, a small island in the Pacific off the coast of Japan, and concluded that the 965-square-mile (2,500-square-kilometer) mud bed contained such a high concentration of certain rare-earth elements that it could meet the world’s REE demand for almost a millennium. This is uncharted territory for Japan, a country driven to horrible extremes in the first half of the 20th century by its dearth of natural resources and still defined by its reliance on imports to this day.
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A discovery of rare-earth elements cannot eliminate Japan’s extreme reliance on imports. This is a country that imported almost 90 percent of its energy needs and 60 per