Business Weekly: A reserve of rare earth minerals keeps Taiwan’s hope of developing nuclear weapons alive

Exploration data shows that Taiwan has black sand reserve of 55 tons, of which 1 percent is monazite

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Rare earth oxides. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Rare earth oxides. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The trade war between the U.S. and China has unexpectedly highlighted the importance of rare earths, but many people are ignorant that Taiwan also has a reserve of rare earth minerals, according to a report in the latest issue of Chinese-language Business Weekly.

Taiwan’s rare earth mineral, called “monazite,” contains more than 50 percent of rare-earth elements, according to Business Weekly. The mineral reserve is located on sand bars off the coast between the Jhuoshuei River (濁水溪) to the north and Tsengwen River (曾文溪) to the south as well as on the banks of four rivers, including the Tsengwen River and Bajhang River (八掌溪), the weekly said.

Exploration data shows that this area has about a black sand reserve of roughly 55 tons, of which about 1 percent is monazite, the weekly reported.

As monazite is an important source of rare earth elements and contains thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal, monazite was considered an important national defense resource.

In 1951, Taiwan set out to explore monazite mines, and established a monazite exploration office. The purpose of the monazite exploration was to extract thorium, rather than rare earth elements, because after some processing, thorium can be turned into uranium for making nuclear bombs and providing fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the weekly. However, as the content of the thorium element in Taiwan’s monazite was low, the exploration was halted in 1952.

The weekly said Taiwan’s rare earth reserve only accounts for 0.02 percent of the global reserve. Even though the reserve is small, it can still keep Taiwan’s hope of developing its own nuclear weapons alive, which can play a counteracting role at crucial times, the weekly added.