On October 22, 2009, in Astana in the Republic of Kazakhstan, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC, President: Hirobumi Kawano) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a rare earth recovery project which has been conducted by Sumitomo Corporation (Sumitomo) and KAZATOMPROM, Kazakh National Atomic Company. The signing ceremony was held in The First Joint Commission of the Japan-Kazakhstan Government and Private Sector on Economic Cooperation. The MOU was singed by Mr. Furuhata, Executive Officer, Sumitomo; Mr.Yashin, Vice-President, KAZATOMPROM; and Mr. Shikado, Executive Director, JOGMEC.
In August 2009, Sumitomo reached an agreement with KAZATOMPROM to undertake the project to recover rare earth from uranium-ore residue. By the end of 2009, Sumitomo and KAZATOMPROM are going to establish a joint venture entity to produce rare earth concentrate from uranium tailings by utilizing an existing facility in ULBA, which will commence steady production of rare earth metals as soon as practical.
In the MOU JOGMEC has decided to provide technical support to the project through Sumitomo and consider necessary financial support for the project, based on the understanding that the project contributes to stable supply of rare earth metals to Japan.
Rare earth such as dysprosium and neodymium are indispensable rare metals for high performance magnets used in hybrid / electric vehicles, however, currently rare earth market is heavily dependent on China. It is an urgent matter to diversify the suppliers. It is expected that the project will open up doors and Kazakhstan will become a new supplier of rare earth.