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Rare Earth Mining of Chalco, Yulin, Guangxi, China


Description

Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table of the elements, i.e., Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Promethium (Pm), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Tm), Ytterbium (Yb) and Lutecium (Lu), and their congeners Scandium (Sc) and Yttrium (Y).  According to their atomic weights and physicochemical properties, they are divided into light, middle and heavy rare earth elements. The first five above-mentioned elements are light ones, and the rest are either middle or heavy ones. Because of their unique physicochemical properties, rare earth elements are considered indispensable in modern industry as they are extensively used in areas such as new energy, new materials, energy conservation and environmental protection, aeronautics and electronic information and communication, to name but a few. [1]

China is relatively abundant in rare earth resources, and its rare earth reserves account for approximately 23 percent of the world’s total. In 2011, China produced 96,900 tonnes of rare earth smelting separation products, accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s total output. [2] Considering the current rate of extraction and the state of reserves, there should be no fear over scarcity. Statistically seen, the reserves would last another 474 years if extraction remains at the levels of 2013. [3] Various scenarios estimate a global annual demand of 200,000 t to 500,000 t in 2030. Demand for very precious rare earths such as dysprosium and praseo-dymium will be very high [4]. If China would still be the only major supplier in 2030, its current reserves would be depleted in 110 or 275 years, depending on the demand scenario in 2030. The situation is much worse for single rare earths. Especially the extraction of light and heavy rare earth deposits in southern China was very high in the mid-2000s. South Chinese mines extracted more than 45,000 t in 2006, but the industrial reserves of the ion-adsorption clays are only 1.5 million t. If extraction would have remained at this level, these resources would have been depleted within 33 years. Due to government interference, production decreased to about 7,000 t in 2013. [3] In addition, inefficient extraction and processing of waste rare earths contribute to depletion.

Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is rich in rare earth resources and exploits large amounts. [5] Since 2017, a Chinese company listed in Hong Kong SAR and in New York, Chalco Guangxi Nonferrous rare Earth Development Co., Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (known as Chalco) began mining rare earth minerals in Mapeng Village, Long’an Town of Yulin City in Guangxi.

The government of Yulin City declared that the project adopts the first-class recycling technology of China and the green environmental protection rare earth mining technology, which makes great contribution to promote the local economic growth and social development. [6] However, the project was not welcomed by the local villagers. The mining site is located near the water source (JinJichong Reservoir) for the whole village. The environmental impact assessment report of the project also contained false content.[7] Therefore, the local villagers have been protesting since they heard about the project, however, without results.

On May 23, 2018, hundreds of local villagers launched a larger protest to stop the extraction of rear earth and then clashed with the police. Local villagers said that a total of 16 people were arrested and several others got injured in the conflict, while the family members of the detainees who went to the police station the day after did not get any reply and received no notice of the detention. The whole process of the incident was posted and circulated on the internet and then was reported to the Department of Land and Resource in Guangxi, while the local authorities threatened to take further actions to repress both the online and offline protesters if they continued to expose the issue.[8]

On May 26, 2018, local villagers expressed their concern about environmental pollution from mining on the Message Board for Local Leaders, “we do not want the environment that has existed for generations to be polluted; we don’t want every villager’s life and health to be threatened.” They also pointed out that if the chemicals washed up into the JinJichong Reservoir next to the village, the daily water consumption of tens of thousands of people would be affected. However, the local government replied that it was a project with legal and procedural compliance, and the technology adopted by Chalco is the most advanced and most mature rare earth in situ leaching process which would not affect the local environment. In addition, the environmental impact assessment of the project has been approved by Yulin Environmental Protection Bureau. At the end of production, reclamation work will be carried out in the operation area. It is estimated that the restoration rate of vegetation will basically reach the state as before after 1.5 years. [9]

The protests continued and escalated in the following dates. In the morning of May 28, hundreds of villagers went to Yulin City, petitioned outside the city government and clashed with police again. The protest banners were looted by police and several others were arrested. [10]Most of the villagers protesting were villagers from villages downstream of the JinJichong Reservoir. They claimed that they daily water consumption of thousands of residents in Yulin will be affected, especially including downstream villages like Mapeng Village, Ganpo Village, Taicun Village, Yangtang Village, Luowang Village, Tengchong Village, Longdan Village, Mou Village, Yangqian Village. [11]

In June 2018, the No.5 Central Environmental Protection Inspection Team received complaints from local villagers while working in Guangxi. The villagers consulted the impacts of rare earth mining on the surrounding environment and especially on drinking water through petition letters. They once again pointed out that the project started without permission from the local villagers and had destroyed collective forests and the bamboo forests. But the response from the No.5 Central Environmental Protection Inspection team is almost the same as that of the Government of Yulin City, but Chalco was temporally ordered to stop the project and work with the Xingye County Government to respond to the questions and appeals raised the the local residents. [12]

By June 30, 2018, the Central Environmental Protection Inspection had received 35 complaints from the masses concerning the rare earth industry in Guangxi, except for some complaints that did not describe specific enterprises. There were 24 complaints against Chalco Guangxi Nonferrous rare Earth Development Co., Ltd., including 5 in Wuzhou, 7 in Hezhou and 12 in Yulin. The inspection team has gone to the scene to check the related reports and found that several branches of Guangxi rare Earth Company have some problems such as direct discharge of flue gas, pollution of water sources, destruction of ecology, and transboundary recovery and so on. The relevant departments have carried out investigations. [13] There is no specific evidence that this project is under investigation, but Chalco's violations are beyond doubt.

Basic Data

NameRare Earth Mining of Chalco, Yulin, Guangxi, China
CountryChina
ProvinceGuangxi
SiteMapeng Village, Long'an Town, Xingye County, Yulin City
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Specific CommoditiesRare metals

Project Details and Actors

Project Details92% rare earth oxide (REO) production: 700 t / year

Service life of production: 4 years (including infrastructure period)

The level of investment: USD 3,130,277 (about CNY 20,346,800, 1 USD =6.5 CNY)

广西荔浦至玉林高速公路兴业段压覆稀土资源抢救性回收利用项目环境影响评价第一次信息公示(accessed on 16-10-2018))

http://hbj.yulin.gov.cn/tongzgg/346.jhtml

The estimated affected population is the whole population (2013) in Long'an town according to Baidubaike.
Project Area (in hectares)0.237
Level of Investment (in USD)3,130,277
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population43,884
Start Date23/05/2018
Company Names or State EnterprisesAluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chalco) from China
Chalco Guangxi Nonferrous rare Earth Development Co., Ltd. from China
Relevant government actors-Government of Yulin city

-Yulin Environmental Protection Bureau

-Central Environmental Protection Inspection Team

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Potential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Otherpotential exposure to polluted water bodies
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts
Otherwater access problems

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseTechnical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.By June 30, 2018, the Central Environmental Protection Inspection had received 35 complaints from the masses concerning the rare earth industry in Guangxi. The inspection team has gone to the scene to check the related reports and found that several branches of Guangxi rare Earth Company have some problems. The relevant departments have carried out investigations. There is no specific evidence that this project is under investigation, but Chalco's violations are beyond doubt.

Sources and Materials

Legislations

广西荔浦至玉林高速公路兴业段压覆稀土资源抢救性回收利用项目环境影响评价第一次信息公示 (accessed on 10-15-2018)
http://hbj.yulin.gov.cn/gsgg/346.jhtml

References

[2] Information Office of the State Council, the People’s Republic of China.(2012) Situation and Policies of China’s Rare Earth Industry. (accessed on 25-10-2018)
http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/2012-06/20/content_2618561.htm

[3] Wübbeke, J. (2015). China’s Rare Earth Industry and End-Use: Supply Security and Innovation. In The Political Economy of Rare Earth Elements (pp. 20-42). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

(accessed on 25-10-2018)
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137364241_2

[5] 广西稀土资源的分布与前景 (accessed on 10-10-2018)
https://www.xzbu.com/6/view-4202986.htm

[4] Alonso, E., Sherman, A. M., Wallington, T. J., Everson, M. P., Field, F. R., Roth, R., & Kirchain, R. E. (2012). Evaluating rare earth element availability: A case with revolutionary demand from clean technologies. Environmental science & technology, 46(6), 3406-3414. (accessed on 25-10-2018)
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es203518d

Links

[7] 忧开采稀土污染环境 广西村民抗议遭抓捕殴打(accessed on 10-15-2018)
https://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/huanjing/yf1-05252018101452.html

[6] 玉林科学推进稀土抢救性回收项目 (accessed on 10-15-2018)
http://www.gxylnews.com/html/news/2018/05/160683.html

[9] 广西兴业县马棚村之开采稀土问题 (accessed on 10-10-2018)
http://liuyan.people.com.cn/threads/content?tid=5138973

[1] Rare-earth element (accessed on 10-10-2018)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare-earth_element

[8] 广西玉林村民抗议采矿遭抓捕 (accessed on 10-10-2018)
https://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/renquanfazhi/yf1-05282018091240.html

[12] 中央环境保护督察“回头看”交办信访件办理结果公示 (accessed on 10-15-2018)
http://www.gxhzxw.com/html/230/2018-06-26/content-35893.html

[10] 广西玉林村民抗议采矿遭抓捕 (accessed on 10-10-2018)
https://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/renquanfazhi/yf1-05282018091240.html

[11] 水源地开采稀土,桂民抗议遭军警镇压 (accessed on 10-10-2018)
https://m.renminbao.com/rmb/articles/2018/5/28/67396m.html

[13] 环保督察发现中铝广西稀土多家子公司污染水源,还涉越界开采 (accessed on 10-15-2018)
https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_2232420

Media Links

Villagers from water source mining rare earths are being beaten down by military police in protest.
http://www.epochtimes.com/gb/18/5/25/n10427716.htm

Other Documents

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 01 The local villagers marched in protest under the banner "firmly against the exploitation of rare earths".
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/2018_Guangxi_Yulin_Rare_Earth_01.jpeg

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 02 Local villagers protest against the exploitation of rare earths and the authorities send police to suppress them.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/2018_Guangxi_Yulin_Rare_Earth_02.jpeg

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 03 Local villagers protest against the exploitation of rare earths and the authorities send police to suppress them.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/2018_Guangxi_Yulin_Rare_Earth_03.jpeg

Meta Information

ContributorEnvJustice, ICTA-UAB/NWAFU 2018 Interns
Last update30/10/2018

Images

 

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 01

The local villagers marched in protest under the banner "firmly against the exploitation of rare earths".

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 02

Local villagers protest against the exploitation of rare earths and the authorities send police to suppress them.

2018 Guangxi Yulin Rare Earth 03

Local villagers protest against the exploitation of rare earths and the authorities send police to suppress them.