North Korea was “hiding” the world’s largest known rare earth deposit

North Korea was “hiding” the world’s largest known rare earth deposit

Jongju Station
Photo: Nicor

The company SRE Minerals recently announced the discovery of the largest deposit of rare earth elements known in the world. As stated by the private corporation, the deposit is located in North Korea, more specifically in the Jongju region, 150 km north-northwest of the capital Pyongyang.

According to an initial assessment, the deposit should contain a total mineralisation potential of six billion tonnes with total 216.2 million tonnes rare-earth-oxides. The document refers the presence of light rare earth elements like lanthanum, cerium and praseodymium, mainly britholite and associated rare earth minerals, the site Mining reports.

However, approximately 2.66 percent of the 216.2 million tonnes are composed of more valuable heavy rare-earth-elements. Louis Schurmann, member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and lead scientist on the project, claims this is the world’s largest known REE occurrence and theoretically worth trillions of dollars.

Rare earth elements mine in Inner Mongolia, China Photo: NASA
Rare earth elements mine in China
Photo: NASA

In order to explore the deposit, SRE Minerals constituted a joint venture with the Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation – called Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited -, obtaining the right to extract the rare earth elements for the next 25 years with an additional renewal period of another 25 years.

The joint venture is officially based in the British Virgin Islands and was also granted permission to develop a processing plant on site at Jongju.

Schurmann adds that this discovery more than doubles the current global known resource of rare earth oxides, previously pegged at 110 million tonnes, according to the US Geological Survey. If the extraction process goes well, this deposit might affect China’s current monopoly of rare earth elements.

Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited plans to further explore Jongju’s “treasure” in March 2014. The venture’s plan includes two core drilling phases, one of 96,000m and another one of 120,000m.