Rare Earth Minerals - Reserves & Strategic Importance [UPSC GS 1 Notes]

As defined by IUPAC, rare earth minerals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides, as well as scandium and yttrium. This article briefly shares information on the huge reserves of rare earth minerals in India, and the strategic importance of rare earth minerals ranging from defence to energy needs.

Aspirants would find this article very helpful while preparing for the IAS Exam.

International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is a member of the International Council for Science. It is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations that represents chemists in individual countries.  Scandium and yttrium are considered rare-earth elements because they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties. They are not especially rare, but they tend to occur together in nature and are difficult to separate from one another.

Rare Earth Minerals Reserves – India Ranks 5th in the World

India has the fifth-largest reserves of rare earth minerals in the world. Due to the radioactivity of monazite sands, Indian Rare Earths Ltd under the Department of Atomic Energy is the sole producer of rare earth compounds. Globally, China has a monopoly over rare earth, after USA’s recede in this industry due to high environmental and health concerns. China had once, almost shivered the Japanese economy by halting the export of rare earth elements. India is also blessed with some crucial rare earth minerals like zirconium, neodymium etc., available in plenty in monazite sands. This could contribute to Indian export markets if utilized properly. However, owing to various reasons such as cost reduction due to high production (economies of scale) in China, lack of demand in the domestic market, lack of domestic processing technologies, the production of rare earth minerals has depleted over years. Most of the products that use rare earth minerals as raw materials are imported. Despite rare earth minerals having high value add the potential for export growth, inadequate processing technologies have made India suffer.

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Rare Earth Minerals – Strategic Importance to India

  1. Rare earth minerals are very crucial for India in order to reduce the energy burden. It is an important component in the manufacture of hybrid vehicles, fuel cells and LEDs.
  2. It is indispensable in the manufacture of advance defence equipment.
  3. Essential for purifying the rivers flowing across the country.
  4. It is used in the manufacture of mobile phones, computers, digital networks, optical fibre cables and other IT gadgets which would help in our Digital India programme.

The above details would help candidates prepare for UPSC 2022.

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