The Conversation: China & Rare Earth Minerals

VIDEO: Supply of Elements Crucial to Gadgets Has Slowed -- What Can the U.S. Do?
WATCH The Conversation: China and Rare Earth Minerals

In a move that might make technophiles quake, China has curtailed shipments of rare earth minerals to the United States -- the very elements that make the computer, cell phone, or other electronic gadget you're reading this on work.

China's supply of rare earth metals has been likened to the Middle East's oil reserves.

"Chinese production now accounts for about 95 percent of the world's rare metals," said Alexis Madrigal, senior editor covering technology for

"The basic problem is that rare earth metals aren't coming out of China," Madrigal added. "Some people say it's an embargo, other people say that the Chinese just need them for domestic production, and there's kind of a third path which is that the Chinese want people to make the kind of advanced electronics in China using domestic rare earth metals."

VIDEO: Supply of Elements Crucial to Gadgets Has Slowed -- What Can the U.S. Do?Play
The Conversation: China and Rare Earth Minerals

Beijing officially says that there is no embargo, but the situation has grown so serious that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Chinese to discuss the rare earth supply.

Earlier this year, the Chinese cut export quotas by 40 percent from 2009 levels, citing concerns about protecting reserves.

Madrigal argues that the most recent supply issues should encourage the U.S. to reopen rare earth mines here.

"We mined in California," Madrigal said. "It's the sort of thing that helps everyone if the United States starts pulling its own weight insofar as we have demand for rare earth metals, which we do."

Madrigal spoke with ABC's David Muir today about the issue of China and rare earth metals. We hope you'll watch for more.

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