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MEI Online: Commodities: Metallic Ores: Rare Earths & Thorium: Conference Reports: Thorium and Rare Earths Conference


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Thorium and Rare Earths Conference
Cape Town, South Africa, February 8-10 2010

The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy hosted the first (at least in Southern Africa) Thorium and Rare Earth Conference in Cape Town in the Western Cape.

Rare Earth Elements (REE)have unique properties that make them indispensable for many technological applications. A range of unique chemical, catalytic, electrical, magnetic, metallurgical and optical properties enable them to play a major role in the advancement of materials technology. Rare earth elements metals have seen significant market growth in recent years. This growth is fuelled by fundamental shifts in the world economy away from fossil fuels towards energy efficiency and renewable energy. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are mainly used in the production of high intensity magnets used in both renewable energy and energy efficiency applications and lanthanum for the production of hybrid car batteries.

Thorium as a alternative nuclear fuel is fast getting global acceptance. The first thorium fuelled nuclear reactors were built in the USA in the 1950ís. The first pebble-bed reactor was built in Germany in1960 and the second achieved full power operation in 1989. These reactors were operated successfully on thorium and the concept was thoroughly proven.

The conference was attended by 66 national and international delegates from Canada, Norway, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Namibia and South Africa.

The quality of presentations were outstanding and the organizing committee was thanked by various delegates for hosting the event.

The organizing committee consisted of:

  • JW van der Merwe Exxaro Resources chairman
  • Prof Eben Mulder North West University
  • Robbie Louw Promethium Capital
  • Christelle Baker Exxaro Resources
  • Secretariat of SAIMM: Jacqui van der Westhuizen and Raymond van der Berg

On the last day there was a request from the delegates for a panel discussion on the issues on Rare Earth and Thorium Processing. The chairman of the organizing committee asked the general manager R&D, NECSA, Dr Van Zyl de Villiers to chair the discussion to decide on the way forward.

The burning issue on the table was that China has reduced the amount of rare earth metals available for export by about 40%. South Africa has a fair amount of REE in the mineral monazite from the heavy mineral sands industry. Processing of these to extract the REE will leave the producers with radio-active thorium that has to be stored up to a time where the high temperature reactors (HTRís) can start using the thorium.

A resolution was made by the conference that a directive should be compiled and directed to Government regarding the issues regarding monazite processing and the storage of the thorium by-product.




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