America's Rare Earth Conundrum : Planet Money America doesn't produce much in the way of rare earths. As the trade war with China intensifies, that's becoming a problem.
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America's Rare Earth Conundrum

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America's Rare Earth Conundrum

America's Rare Earth Conundrum

America's Rare Earth Conundrum

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/755612689/755619977" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

An area surrounded by rare earth refineries on the edge of China. ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

An area surrounded by rare earth refineries on the edge of China.

ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

Rare earths are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity in the tech world. They are are essential ingredients in many of the commercial products we use everyday. Cell phones, wind turbines, electric cars: We couldn't make any of these things without rare earths.

The US military needs rare earths too: they're a vital component in the electronics in everything from fighter jets to missile defense systems. And where does the U.S. get nearly all of its rare earths from? China.

Now that the trade war is intensifying, this reliance on China for rare earths is becoming a problem. And rare earths could become a weapon in the trade war. A weapon wielded by China, against the US.

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