New Tokyo governor looks seaward for vital rare earth elements

December 19, 2012


Tokyo’s new governor said that the metropolitan government will give subsidies to businesses joining a project to mine rare earth elements from the seabed off Minami-Torishima island, to the southeast of Tokyo.

The initiative by Naoki Inose is designed to help domestic businesses and industry by reducing the nation’s dependence on China as a leading source of rare earths imports.

“We want to collaborate with businesses because they have the technology to go into the deep sea,” Inose said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 17.

Inose, 66, a former Tokyo vice governor and prizewinning author, was elected in a landslide in the gubernatorial election on Dec. 16 to succeed longtime Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who resigned to run for a Lower House seat.

Inose said the metropolitan government will allocate research funds to study mining rare earths from the seabed in the next fiscal year’s budget. Rare earth elements are vital to the production of high-tech products such as electric vehicles and smartphones.

A research team led by Yasuhiro Kato, a professor of rare earth and other natural resources at the University of Tokyo, said in June it has discovered rich deposits of rare earth minerals off Minami-Torishima, part of the Ogasawara island chain.

Minami-Torishima, 1,950 kilometers to the southeast of Tokyo, is located in the nation’s exclusive economic zone and in the jurisdiction of Tokyo.

The researchers say the deposits are equivalent to more than 200 years of the amount Japan needed annually.

But to mine rare earth elements from the floor of the deep sea requires advanced technology and funding.

If the mining project becomes feasible, the metropolitan government will call for the establishment of a fund by investing in it to encourage investment from the public.

“If the metropolitan government primes the pump, it would prompt the central government to come aboard the development of natural resources,” Inose said.

Inose also said the metropolitan government will make the best use of public contributions that were collected for Tokyo’s efforts to purchase the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Ishihara announced the initiative earlier this year, and the metropolitan government received about 1.5 billion yen ($17.85 million) in public donations.

But Tokyo gave up the effort after the central government decided to buy three of the Senkakus from a private landowner.

Inose said he supports a proposal to build facilities to shelter fishing boats in the islands.

“We will provide the money for it,” Inose said of a shelter in the uninhabited Senkakus. “But since we don’t know yet how the new administration will handle the proposal, we will establish a fund with the contributions to make good use of contributors’ wishes.”

Inose said he will continue on efforts started by Ishihara to land the Summer Olympics for Tokyo, which would mark the first time since it hosted the 1964 Games.

While the new governor expressed confidence about the capital's bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, he said the metropolitan government will continue to try to host the Games someday, even if the current effort fails.

“I think we can be successful this time, but continuing to raise a flag to host the Games is necessary,” Inose said.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to pick the host city for the 2020 Summer Games in September 2013. Tokyo is one of three finalists, along with Madrid and Istanbul.

Tokyo failed in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Games, despite a spirited effort by Ishihara, which was undercut by a lack of public support.

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New Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose speaks in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 17. (Hiroki Endo)

New Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose speaks in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 17. (Hiroki Endo)

  • New Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose speaks in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 17. (Hiroki Endo)

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