China can’t control the market in rare earth elements because they aren’t all that rare

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If you need to know one thing about rare earth metals, it’s that they’re crucial to modern technology, helping power everything from MRI machines and satellites to headphones and nuclear reactors. If you need to know two things, it’s that despite their name, they’re not at all rare.

This second fact is crucial when putting recent headlines about these 17 oddly named elements in proper context. Last week, many publications covered the news that a Japanese team of scientists had found a huge trove of rare earth elements off the coast of the country’s Minamitori Island. Some 16 million tons were estimated to be lurking in the deep-sea mud, enough to meet global demand on a “semi-infinite basis,” said the researchers.

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