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REE and Uranium
This Q & A is a practical tool to help people find information about rare earth elements and uranium in regards to the mining project on Kvanefjeld.
1) Facts on rare earth elements and uranium
Q: What are Rare earth elements (REE)?
A: Rare Earths Elements (REEs) are a group of specialty metals with unique physical, chemical and light-emitting properties. The group is considered to include the 15 lanthanide elements: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, promethium (does not occur naturally), neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium. The elements yttrium and scandium are also included as they have similar chemical properties, making 17 REEs in total.
REEs are typically described as being either “light” or “heavy”:
Light REE Lanthanum through to samarium on the periodic table (LREE)
Heavy REE Europium through to lutetium on the periodic table (HREE)
Q: What are REE used for?
A: Several high technology commodities depend on the unique properties of REE: wind turbines, hybrid vehicles, rechargeable batteries, mobile (cell) phones, plasma and LCD screens, laptop computers, disk drives and catalytic converters. Rare Earth Elements make the world’s strongest permanent magnets, which are used in electric motors.
Q: Where do REEs come from?
China is responsible for nearly 95 per cent of the world’s production of rare earth metals. China domestic demand is such that the majority of this is consumed within China and only a relatively small proportion is available for export. Western World production is forecast to increase with both Molycorp Inc. (USA) and Lynas Corp. (Australia) beginning to ramp up their respective newly established operations, however these projects predominantly produce only LREEs.
Q: What is uranium?
A: Uranium is a naturally occurring element that can be found in low levels within all rock, soil, water and even animal and human tissue. Uranium is most widely known for its radioactive properties and it is these radioactive properties that drive most of its commercial use, particularly in nuclear power generation.
Q: Why is nuclear power important?
A: About 12 % of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. The nuclear fuel cycle produces virtually no emissions of greenhouse gases. This avoids the release of 2 billion tonnes of CO2 each year into the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants generate about 30% of the electricity produced in the EU. There are currently 132 nuclear reactors in operation in 14 EU member countries. Each EU country can decide whether it wants to include nuclear power in its energy mix. Countries like France, Slovakia, Belgium, and Sweden rely heavily on nuclear power. Countries such as Great Britain, Canada and the United states are considering expanding the nuclear energy capacity. Denmark currently receives electricity from Sweden so it too benefits from nuclear energy.