SEOUL, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is trying to secure rights to develop rare earth elements in South Africa that can help satisfy the country's growing industrial demand for the key mineral, the government said Friday.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Seoul is seeking a formal agreement to take part in the Zandkopsdrift mine project that is estimated to have one of the largest rare earth deposits in the world. Industry sources said that once production begins around 2014, the mine could churn out 20,000 tons of rare earth elements per year.
"A preliminary pact has been reached with a binding agreement being sought for late this year or early 2012 at the latest," a ministry official said.
Since South Korea is seeking a 30 percent stake in Zandkopsdrift, located in the Western Cape province, it will be entitled to around 6,000 tons of rare earth elements, close to two times the 3,287 tons the country needed last year, he said.
The ministry, in charge of the country's industrial policies, said that by 2014, local demand for the mineral, used in the production of various information technology and energy storage products, may reach 10,000 tons.
Besides Zandkopsdrift, South Korea will continue to buy rare earth elements from China, which currently supplies 60 percent of its demand, as well as seeking fresh deposits in places such as Australia and Vietnam, it said.
The ministry also said that it has discovered deposits of rare earth elements in the central part of South Korea, near Chungju and Hongcheon that may hold up to 140,000 tons of the precious mineral.
In the meantime, the ministry said, the government will increase emergency stockpiles of rare earth elements from 62 tons in 2010 to 1,500 tons in the next three years, enough to keep local production going for 100 days, up from three days at present.
The need to stockpile rare earth elements has gained momentum after countries such as China said that they will restrict export of the material, which could seriously affect local industries.
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