The recent find of a huge reserve of rare earth metals in Kiruna presents the perfect example of the metaphorical double-edged sword. For Sweden and the European Union it is quite fabulous economic news. For years Europe has relied too heavily on China’s prodigious rare earth metals wealth. China, indeed, accounts for more than 98% of the EU’s import of rare earth metals. Rare earth minerals are essential to many high-tech manufacturing processes and are used in electric vehicles, wind turbines, portable electronics, microphones, fighter jets and speakers. It’s difficult to overestimate their importance. ”Lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas,” the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said last year.
So, giving Sweden and the EU a chance to break China’s economic stranglehold at this crucial time is not to be sniffed at. And, for Sweden, this find might provide the country with what oil has been for Norway – a major source of income and a means of power. And it will bring more money and work to Norrland. That is indisputable. But – and here comes the other edge of that sword – mining always brings with it environmental degradation. Always. And what about the indigenous Sami? It’s inevitable that their lives will be adversely affected. The bright side? We probably have 10 years or so before mining is likely to begin, so the Swedish government will have time to prepare. It will be a huge challenge.
Paul & Donna
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