Latest Issue

Heavy metal

China’s monopoly on rare earth metals could choke economies across the world

By Robin Powell   December 2009

The Molycorp Minerals mine in Mountain Pass, California

Cast your eyes down to the lower reaches of the periodic table, and you find a row of exotic-sounding elements that you probably never got to in chemistry lessons. Here lie 17 elements known as rare earth metals, a group consisting of lanthanides (atomic numbers 57-71), scandium (21) and yttrium (39)—the latter owing its name to the similarly unpronounceable Swedish town where it was discovered in the late 18th century. Yet rare elements are not quite as unusual as their names might suggest. In fact, they are everywhere: in your mobile…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect