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NOTEBOOK: Japan bonanza: Mud island = 780 years of computer screens


One time I found a $20 bill in a parking lot. I felt pretty lucky. Well, far off the coast of Japan, scientists just redefined luck. They found an island of deep-sea mud containing huge supplies of rare earth minerals, enough to last centuries, CNN reports. What does that have to do with us? Plenty. China now has the corner on 95 percent of the rare earth metal market. Those minerals contain rare earth elements — you’ll find them mostly low down on your periodic table — and are used in computer screens, smartphones, missile systems, radar and hybrid vehicles. The mud island is a 16 million ton pile near Minamitori Island, which is technically a part of Tokyo even though it is 790 miles off the coast of Japan. Scientists figure the store has 780 years’ worth of yttrium, 620 years of europium, 420 years of terbium, and 730 years’ worth of dysprodium. Rare earth minerals are found in many places in the Earth’s crust, but not usually in large ore deposits. 

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