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Toxic Secrets Behind “Clean” Energy

January 25, 2021

By Paul Homewood

We’ve covered parts of this story a few times, but this article from Guillaume Pitron, who has been investigating it for years, suggests that the problem is far worse and more extensive than previously thought.

I have picked out some highlights, but the full Mail article is here.


Past the suburbs of the Chinese city of Baotou, below a quadruple carriageway, a lonely path led me to an embankment bristling with pylons, each with a security camera watching for intruders.

This is how I reached the Weikuang Dam – an artificial lake into which metallic intestines regurgitate torrents of black water from the nearby refineries. I was looking at ten square kilometres of toxic effluent. After observing this immense, disintegrating landscape, my guide and I decided to move before the security cameras alerted the police to our presence.

A few minutes later, we arrived in a village called Dalahai on another side of the artificial lake. Here, the thousands of inhabitants breathe in the toxic discharge of the reservoir as well as eating produce, such as corn and buckwheat, grown in it.

There are toxic secrets behind mobile phones used every day around the world.

Cancer affects the local population and many villagers have died. The hair of young men barely aged 30 has suddenly turned white. Children grow up without developing any teeth.

One villager, a 54-year-old called Li Xinxia, confided in me despite knowing it’s a dangerous subject. He said: ‘There are a lot of sick people here. Cancer, strokes, high blood pressure… almost all of us are affected. We are in a grave situation. They did some tests and our village was nicknamed “the cancer village”. We know the air we breathe is toxic and that we don’t have that much longer to live.’

The provincial authorities offered villagers compensation to relocate but these farming folk were reluctant to move to high-rise flats in a neighbouring town.

In short, it is a disaster area.

And the reason? Our insatiable demand for rare metals.

For centuries, mankind mined just seven primary metals – iron, gold, silver, copper, lead, aluminium and mercury. But from the 1970s, attention turned to lesser-known rare metals found in terrestrial rocks in infinitesimal amounts which have superb magnetic, catalytic and optical properties.

Now, we are totally reliant on them for the manufacture of devices such as mobile phones, not to mention electric and/or hybrid cars which require twice as many rare metals as a traditional internal-combustion engine vehicle.

They are also a key component in wind turbines and solar panels. Some of these substances have exotic names: vanadium, germanium, platinoids, tungsten, antimony, beryllium, fluorine, rhenium, tantalum, niobium, to name but a few.

For eight years, I have researched these rare metals that are upending our world. Across four continents, men and women involved in the opaque and underground industry told me a dark tale.

By their account, the development of these substances has not done us, or the planet, any of the favours we would have expected from a supposedly greener and friendlier world – far from it.

Above all, our dependence on rare metals brings two very big problems. The first is that mining, refining and recycling them is immensely polluting, thereby giving the lie to the idea that our increasingly digital and electricity-powered life is greener than one reliant on fossil fuels….

BUT while rare metals can produce green technologies, the savage irony is that mining and refining them are among the most polluting and wasteful processes on earth.

The 10,000 or so mines across China have played a big role in destroying that country’s environment. Pollution damage by the coal-mining industry is well documented. But barely reported is the fact that mining rare metals also produces pollution.

In 2006, about 60 Chinese companies producing indium – a rare metal used in the manufacture of some solar-panel technologies – released tons of chemicals into the Xiang River in Hunan, jeopardising the province’s drinking water and local people’s health.

Working conditions in the mines are appalling. But it is the refining process that causes the most pollution and harm to workers and nearby inhabitants.

In truth, there is nothing refined about it at all. It involves crushing rock and then using a concoction of chemical reagents such as sulphuric and nitric acid. ‘It’s a long and repetitive process,’ says a specialist. ‘It takes loads of different procedures to obtain a rare-earth concentrate close to 100 per cent purity.’

That’s not all: purifying a single ton of rare earths requires using at least 200 cubic metres of water, which then becomes saturated with acids and heavy metals. Very rarely will this water be treated at the plant before it is released into rivers, soils and ground water.

The Chinese could have opted for clean mining but didn’t. From one end of the rare-metals production line to the other, little in China is done according to the most basic ecological and health standards. So, as rare metals have become ubiquitous in green and digital technologies, the toxic sludge they produce has been contaminating water, soil, the atmosphere and the flames of blast furnaces – representing the four elements essential to life. The result is that producing rare metals has become one of the most polluting and secretive industries in China.

The pollution caused by rare metals is not limited to China. It concerns all producing countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies more than half the planet’s cobalt. This element, indispensable to the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, is mined under conditions out of the Middle Ages.

One hundred thousand miners equipped with spades and picks dig into the earth. Given the African country’s inability to regulate its mining activities, the pollution of surrounding rivers and turmoil in the ecosystems are legion.

Research by Congolese doctors has found that the cobalt concentration in the urine of the local communities living near mines in Katanga province is up to 43 times higher than a control sample.

We see the same in Kazakhstan, a central Asian country producing 14 per cent of the world’s chrome – prized by the aerospace industry for the superalloys that improve the energy performance of aircraft. In 2015, researchers from South Kazakhstan State University discovered that chrome-mining was responsible for colossal pollution of the Syr Darya, the longest river in Central Asia. Its water had become unfit for consumption by the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, who are now even advised against using it for their crops.

Extracting minerals from the ground is an inherently dirty operation. But the way it’s been carried out so irresponsibly and unethically in the most productive mining countries casts doubt on the virtuous vision of those behind the energy and digital revolution….


What the West has done, by moving the sourcing of its rare metals to China, is to relocate its pollution. We have knowingly and patiently created a system that allows us to move our ‘filth’ as far away as possible, and the Chinese have welcomed the initiative.

As a Canadian rare-metals industrialist said with great irony: ‘We can thank them for the environmental damage they have endured to produce these metals in our place.’

Beijing is well-versed in the power of such mineral sovereignty. When a student in France, Deng Xiaoping (China’s leader in the 1980s) worked in a foundry of the iron cookware firm Le Creuset. All but one of the past six presidents and prime ministers were trained in engineering – electrical, hydroelectrical, geology – and in process chemistry.

Consequently, and with the support of a stable authoritarian political system that values patient and consistent decision-making, they have laid the foundations of an ambitious policy to secure the nation’s supplies.

To put this stranglehold into perspective, look at OPEC, the oil producers cartel. For decades, its 14 members have been able to significantly influence oil prices, yet they represent ‘only’ 41 per cent of global production.

China has staked its claim on 95 per cent of global production of the coveted class of certain rare-earth metals. In the words of one expert: ‘It’s OPEC on steroids.’

So what does a nation do when it is so powerful?

Naturally, Beijing’s intentions become far more aggressive – reducing supply of rare metals in order to ramp up the price.

Experts noticed that China’s export quotas, set at 65,000 tons in 2005, began to drop a year later to under 62,000 tons. By 2009, Beijing had reduced this to 50,000 tons and official figures for 2010 put exports at only 30,000 tons.

The same trend was observed for all the rare metals disproportionally produced by China.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (28 per cent of the total in 2015). Ten per cent of its arable land is contaminated by heavy metals; 80 per cent of its ground water is unfit for consumption.

Notoriously, China is also expanding its rare-metals operations around the globe. It is a new world that China wants to fashion to its liking and has therefore begun its own hunt abroad for rare metals, starting in Canada, Australia, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Vietnam.

The most prized location is Africa, and in particular South Africa, Burundi, Madagascar and Angola. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, China has built a railway line to open access to the cobalt-rich southern region of Katanga.

SO what is the solution? I support bringing back mining in the West. Not so much for the value, the additional tax revenues and the thousands of jobs it would create; nor for the strategic security of having our own supply chain.

Rather, my argument is on behalf of the environment. Reopening mines in the West would be the best possible decision we could make for protecting our planet.

Relocating our dirty industries to China and Africa has helped keep Western consumers in the dark about the true environmental cost of our lifestyles.

The effects of returning mining operations to the West would be positive. We would instantly realise – to our horror – the true cost of our supposedly green world. We can well imagine how having quarries ‘in our backyard’ would end our indifference and denial and drive our efforts to contain the resulting pollution. 

As well as the control over pricing mentioned, far more worrying is the strategic hold it gives China over supply. An article today in UnHerd outlines the control China has over the UK’s power grids, thanks to the take over of distribution companies by Chinese businesses.

As for returning mining operations to the West, I fear that horse has already bolted. Would the public accept widescale mining operations, no matter how “clean”, given the way they have been conditioned for years to oppose fracking and coal mines?

And even if these rare earths to be mined and processed to western environmental standards, the cost would rocket, suddenly making these supposedly cheap renewable technologies and electric cars much more expensive.

This new report should be a wake up call for the West.

  1. marlene permalink
    January 25, 2021 2:55 pm

    ALL of the bad news for the past few years has come from CHINA, is about CHINA, reflects the harm CHINA is doing to the rest of the world, and makes CHINA the worst and most dangerous country in the world – as we know it… Trump was so right about China. Biden is so dangerously wrong.

  2. January 25, 2021 2:57 pm

    This new report should be a wake up call for the West, but with the shower in parliament, in Government, in the media and the NGOs, it won’t register at all. Can’t you just see Harrabin producing an article like this?

  3. January 25, 2021 3:08 pm

    Cornish Lithium is exploring the possible recovery of lithium tin, copper and cobalt in that area. Hopefully, they will succeed.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      January 25, 2021 6:27 pm

      I read quite a bit about their efforts recently. There seems to be no particular urgency. They have some very interesting research techniques, but they haven’t yet worked out how they will do the extraction, which is still subject to research and evaluation. Lithium rich geothermal brines are the new source in the party to add to Li rich micas. They are saying very little about other metals. I’d bet the Chinese are working out how to end up owning them.

      • europeanonion permalink
        January 26, 2021 10:43 am

        Yes, let’s destroy the Cornish countryside. Dr. Johnson had an aside that refers to a man that marries a woman he has got by child, “He shits in his hat then clamps it upon his own head”. Sorry about the abrupt language, but it seems that mellifluous tones and temperate suggestions impress no one. Newly alone in the world; a massive debt piling up due to Covid; an industrial landscape that is uncertain. Wouldn’t you think that, if only for the short term, we would, as an emergency action, utilise all the means at our disposal, dig for victory? We, we clamp that hat upon our heads. People who, seemingly, have never done anything vaguely artisan and mine their vocabularies for a living hold a view that every should be nice and clean, kill off domestic cattle, not to mention the wildebeest and Zebra; if I press this switch my needs will be satisfied cargo-cultism. Easter Island has its statutes commemorating such thinking (and little else). There is the triumph of nature over humanity, civilisation. A disaster.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        January 26, 2021 10:53 am


        Good rant. Liked it. 🙂

  4. devonblueboy permalink
    January 25, 2021 3:08 pm

    What a surprise, the day has a ‘y’ in it

  5. Ian Miller permalink
    January 25, 2021 3:17 pm

    Does China own the BBC, now we’re out of the European Union ? I would not be at all surprised, seeing how devoid of personal integrity, open we are to corruption in the Civil Service and Government !!

  6. mjr permalink
    January 25, 2021 3:23 pm

    off topic but interesting video
    “Thanks to unprecedented man-made global warming, we had 90 days between snowstorms this summer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. From June 8 to September 8.”

    And for me sitting in the Midlands looking at 4 inches of snow from yesterday .

    • Mad Mike permalink
      January 25, 2021 4:14 pm

      2 flurries of snow so far this winter, soon melted. Posted from sunny Canterbury. Maybe Al Gore was right………………………………just joking.

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        January 25, 2021 4:30 pm

        We’ve just had the worst snowstorm since we moved here 10 years ago. All of 5 centimetres! But it’s also shaping up to be the coldest January.

    • January 25, 2021 11:52 pm

      Snow is not a huge surprise in a place at 2,000m elevation like Cheyanne
      It’s 100 miles north of Denver

  7. Mad Mike permalink
    January 25, 2021 3:30 pm

    China will have a long term plan. The plan probably goes back a decade or 2. They do think long term these guys and they don’t have to worry about elections, popularity etc. Its probably similar to a drug dealers practice of getting people hooked on drugs, initially sold for peanuts or even given away, then slowly advancing their power and cash. Junkies are easy to control as long as you can supply and our dependence and craving for new technologies using rare metals has made us easy control material for China. Despite the wealth that we still have, we have become morally weak when dealing with China and America has just kicked out a guy that might have saved them. Trump is narcissistic and difficult to admire but he has been right over China and some other things. The trouble was his policies, some of which were spot on, were delivered by the wrong man. We’ll have to see what Biden comes up with but his first actions don’t bode well.

    • Melissa permalink
      January 25, 2021 7:21 pm

      Who the hell cares about Trump’s supposed ‘narcissism’ when his policies were spot on? This is what frosts me about some people, they choose style over substance. I don’t give a rat’s ass what a candidate looks like or how the “come over” to the public. IT’S POLICY THAT MATTERS.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        January 26, 2021 10:56 am

        Tick. VG ,Melissa.

    • TheTooner permalink
      January 25, 2021 7:24 pm

      “…Despite the wealth that we still have, we have become morally weak …”

      It’s because of the wealth that we have.

    • MikeHig permalink
      January 26, 2021 2:38 pm

      One of Trump’s early actions was to kick off an effort to review America’s situation wrt rare earths and other strategic materials and then come up with plans to reduce exposures. There’s a post about the whole subject over on WUWT:

  8. bluecat57 permalink
    January 25, 2021 3:57 pm

    Not very secret, just not week known.
    I’ve been telling people about this since the first extremely polluting Prius was sold in 2001.

    • Mad Mike permalink
      January 25, 2021 4:12 pm

      Blue, same here but I really don’t think people care that much. People are all ardent environmentalists until it interferes with their lives. Wait until they realise what Boris, well Carrie actually, has in store for them in 5-10 years time. They’ll care then.

      • bluecat57 permalink
        January 25, 2021 6:14 pm

        The Leftists that buy into this BS only want to FEEL good. They do not care about DOING good.

  9. GeoffB permalink
    January 25, 2021 4:51 pm

    This paragraph resonated with me.
    Beijing is well-versed in the power of such mineral sovereignty. When a student in France, Deng Xiaoping (China’s leader in the 1980s) worked in a foundry of the iron cookware firm Le Creuset. All but one of the past six presidents and prime ministers were trained in engineering – electrical, hydroelectrical, geology – and in process chemistry.

    I ran an electrical factory in China for a few years in 2000, and had to sort out the wages and HR issues, I found that the pay rates for different disciplines were totally different to Europe. Here doctors particularly consultants, legal…barristers and solicitors, accountants and university professors are highly paid. In China engineers were at the top of the scale, doctors were regarded as body mechanics and were low down as were educators, it was more or less the other way round to the Western standards.
    I did have 4 rather beautiful (in chinese eyes) cleaning ladies, highly paid but it turned out they were the concubines for the senior chinese management, all of whom were dismissed.

    • tomo permalink
      January 26, 2021 2:48 pm

      Given your experience in China – do you feel that we should be cautious about the motives and methods of the CCP?

      Given the way “face” plays a part in Chinese life can we afford to / should we challenge them?

      The Aussies seem to be finding out – via Alibaba small orders being blocked – that challenging the CCP only drives them to retaliate … Jack Ma disappears for a few weeks and deliveries dry up….

  10. Melissa permalink
    January 25, 2021 7:22 pm

    Oh, and don’t get me started on the anti-plastic morons either when a report shows that most of the plastic dumped into the oceans come from 10 rivers in Africa and Asia.

  11. Devoncamel permalink
    January 25, 2021 8:04 pm

    No apologies for this; we have a China crisis, not a climate crisis.

  12. January 26, 2021 12:13 am

    Find pics by searching Twitter for Baogang Dam, also known as the Baotou Tailings Dam

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