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Rare Earths explained

Monday, 24th January, 2011

Lanthanum, a “rare earth” is used in camera lenses amongst other things. Lanthanum is found in uranium minerals such as were mined at Radium Hill near Broken Hill in the 1950s. (Photo: photos8.com) Lanthanum, a “rare earth” is used in camera lenses amongst other things. Lanthanum is found in uranium minerals such as were mined at Radium Hill near Broken Hill in the 1950s. (Photo: photos8.com)

By Peter Black

'Rare Earths' have been in the news lately, with a refinery touted for Whyalla, and (BDT, Monday, Jan 10) Bill Harcourt bewailing that he had bought Lynas Corp. (a W.A. Rare Earth miner) shares last July at 67 cents.

He sold early in August at 84 cents, saw the stock rise to $1.65 by the end of the month when he again bought in only to see the stock fall to $1.41 in late Sept. when he again sold out, only to see the stock rise to (currently) $2.07.The Labor Doyen has asked me what a 'rare earth' is, so here goes: 

In my last column 'Uranium - a Hot Topic' mention was made of the two closely related uranium minerals mined at Radium Hill; Davidite - (Ce ) and Davidite - (La), the difference being that in one position making up the crystal lattice of the minerals, Cerium is dominant over Lanthanum in the former, and vice versa in the latter.

Both Lanthanum and Cerium belong to a closely related group of silvery-white metals, collectively known as Lanthanides, viz: Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promenthium, Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium and Lutetium.

Two other metals, Yttrium and Scandium, were also historically grouped as rare earths, but are now correctly regarded as transitional metals.The minerals (first investigated in Sweden, hence the names) containing rare earths and accordingly mined include Monazite, Basnasite, Allanite, Samarskite, Xenotime, Gadolinite, Fergusonite and Euxenite.

The world's major rare earth deposits are found in Jiangxi and Byran Obo, China; Mountain Pass Mine, California; Nechalacho, Canada; Kvanefjeld, Greenland; and Mt Weld, Laverton District, W.A., which is operated by Lynas Corp.

Other Australian deposits, some of which are expected to be mined in the not so distant future, are Brockman, Cummins Range, and Killi Killi Hills, all three in the Kimberley, W.A., (south of) Dubbo, NSW; Elaine and Mary Kathleen (closed), both near Mt Isa, Qld; Mt Gee, Arkaroola, S.A., Narraburra near Young, NSW; and Nolans Bore, Central N.T.

Rare Earths collectively have a wide range of increasingly important uses including electronic components, hydride and nuclear batteries (e.g. for electric cars) arc-welding electrodes, catalysts in petroleum cracking, glass for lasers, luminous paint and dental alloys.

Locally, Cobalt is sometimes confused as a 'rare' metal - it is not.

The Pyrite and Boomerang Hill deposits not far to the West of Broken Hill carry cobalt in the pyrite, that is, cobalt substitutes for iron in the pyrite, "almost" to the extent of making the deposit economic.

An exploration adit was developed (I think in the '60s); periodically, especially when the US exchange rate is low, exploration companies send in geologists to "have another look". Cobalt has been used for some thousands of year to colour glass (starting with the Phoenicians); it is an essential element in our diet in the form of vitamin B.


I) The front country has lost another of its great identities in Clarrie Whitchurch, who sadly passed away two weeks ago.
Clarrie for many years ran the Cash and Carry at Ivanhoe, in a 'partnership' with Second World War veteran Bill Baird, who famously brought stores up from Hay (which had a rail service) across the One Tree Plain and the Willandra Creek, the crossing of both could be formidable.

The 'Cobb Highway' is now sealed with bridges across the Willandra channels; the last section at Mossgiel in 1999, which was done as a political decision, of which I am proud, against the wishes of the R.T.A. nabobs.

That Clarrie held giant statue in the Ivanhoe district is beyond question, for both the town, graziers and shearers alike.

Vale Clarrie Whitchurch, I was one of a great many privileged to know you.

2) I was pleased to be appointed Country Labor Campaign Director for Neville Gasmier; Bill Beckroge was mine in 1999.Thus far in the campaign we have visited Ivanhoe, Hay and Deniliquin. There can be no doubt that it will be exceedingly difficult to win Murray-Darling, but our hearts and minds are in it.

3) In my last column, I protested the sale at the plaza of fake emerald, ruby and sapphire, sold as 'created' emerald, ruby and sapphire.In recent BDT junkmail, a Mildura jeweller has gone one better - 'Cultured Ceylon Sapphire"Cultured? Ceylon? Really?

4) "American Cultural Imperialism" was a much bandied term used in the '70s and beyond in protest about the effect that American television and commercialism was having on traditional Australian values, which I never thought would extend to the BDT.

It has; the answer to a clue in Wednesday's Jan. 12 crossword was 'vapour', spelt 'vapor'!

Thankfully Sulphide St will remain that - no 'f'.

5) Whatever Leeann James might believe or might not believe (BDT, Readers Write, Jan. 19) the fact remains that when John Williams was asked by the BDT what he had achieved for Broken Hill over the past four years he could claim but three things: 1. $100,000 for the swimming pool. 2. Waiver of interest in loans from the Dept. of Lands to the Regional Event Centre Trust. 3. The renewed operation of the Menindee Lakes. 
He had nothing to do with 1 and 2; and 3 is incomprehensible. Can Leeann add to the list?

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