Keeping our fingers crossed on this red mud hope

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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THE information delivered to the Parliament yesterday by Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is quite interesting and encouraging.

According to the minister, a Japanese aluminium firm, Nippon Light Metal Company Limited, after coming to the conclusion that there are high concentrations of rare earth elements in Jamaica's red mud deposits, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) for the establishment of a pilot project to determine the commercial scope of the venture.

"The concentration of rare earth elements in mineable quantities around the world is unusual, and the concentration of rare earth elements found in Jamaica's red mud deposits are significantly greater than what is known about other red mud sites around the world," our lead story quotes Minister Paulwell as telling the House of Representatives.

According to Mr Paulwell, the Japanese firm hopes to extract 1,500 metric tons of rare earth elements per annum. The commodity, he said, is currently trading at rates of up to US$3,500 per kilogramme.

As we pointed out in our story, even at a base rate of US$1,000 per kilogramme, 1,500 metric tons of rare earth metals have the potential to earn US$1.5 billion annually.

That's a significant amount of money, especially for a country, such as ours, with a struggling economy.

It's too early now to celebrate a project such as this. However, it is our hope that the expectations of the Government and the Japanese investors will be met.

For this country is in dire need of some good fortune, and if the projections of Nippon Light Metal's researchers hold true, this rare earth element venture will easily qualify as such.

We expect, though, that this project will attract keen attention from environmentalists, even though the National Environment and Planning Agency has already approved the pilot.

Our hope is that the Government and the investors, if asked, will provide the environmental lobby with all information relevant to the project, because transparency can only enhance the relationship between all stakeholders and ensure the smooth operation of the venture.

We note that Nippon Light Metal has already put up US$3 million to fund the pilot, which will provide jobs for Jamaicans, and that the company will assume full responsibility for the management and disposal of any waste from the project and absorb the operating costs.

Encouraging, as well, is Minister Paulwell's declaration that the results of the pilot project will be beneficially owned, in equal parts, by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and Nippon Light Metal, and that any rare earth elements produced at the pilot plant will be jointly owned by the Government of Jamaica and the Japanese firm.

It is, as we said, an interesting and encouraging venture about which we are keeping our fingers crossed.




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