Rare Earths/niobium: Russia puts its weight behind rare earths

Rare earths mine — Tomtor

The Tomtor niobium-rare earth deposit in Yakutia is set to enter development in 2018 at an estimated cost of over US$1.3Bn. The push to advance this rare earth project follows state subsidies to back bank loans and support from Russian authorities. The Tomtor deposit is a joint venture between Russian company Rostec and the ICT Group; the latter holds an interest in the precious metal producer Polymetal. Estimated resources at the Tomtor deposit are reported to be 154Mt of ore at 9.5% total rare earth oxides (TREO).

Roskill view: Russia is one of the few rare earth producing countries outside of China. The Solikamsk Magnesium Works exported around 6kt of rare earth compounds in 2017, produced from its Karnasurt mine in the Kola Peninsula; rare earths are processed further at the Silmet plant in Estonia, a subsidiary of Neo Performance Materials. The plant being designed to process the Tomtor ore in the city of Chita is estimated to have 200ktpy of capacity for ore (approximately 20ktpy of contained TREO).

Tomtor is one of a number of rare earth deposits across the globe with significant radioactive by-products. Environmental concerns over radioactivity have been a barrier to entry for some potential producers of rare earths. Russia is pursuing the co-production of thorium for the development of a nuclear power plant, in collaboration with Russian nuclear monopoly Rosatom. It aims to advance the production of rare earth materials used in defence and aerospace technologies. Currently, all of Russia’s downstream rare earth products are imported from China.