Pranab for joint exploration of rare earths with Japan

Hanoi: India on Thursday offered to collaborate with Japan in exploring rare earth minerals, which are essential in the manufacture of hybrid cars, cell phones, computer monitors and missiles.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made the offer for collaboration in exploring rare earth reserves in India during his discussions with his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda here.

The two ministers were in Hanoi for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Mukherjee referred to China, the world`s largest producer of rare earths, curbing output growth and exports of the key materials to conserve its resources and protect the environment.

World prices of rare earths have doubled in the last four months and this hike is over and above the four-fold jump in the value of these metals last year.

Though crucial to production of hi-tech goods, rare earths industry has been characterised by small and entrepreneurial companies.

Efforts are on to build the world`s largest rare earth refinery in Malaysia as an alternate source to China which controls more than 95 per cent of the market.

However, the Malaysian refinery that aims to process rare earths procured from Australia, has been caught up in regulatory issues and assistance has been sought from the International Atomic Energy Agency in addressing public concerns about the project.

India produces and sells six heavy minerals — ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite and garnet as well as some value-added products through Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL).