Written evidence submitted by G R Chapman
I worked for 30 years in the British Geological Survey,
chiefly on the DTI-funded Minerals Intelligence Programme. I advised
the DTI on, inter alia, the strategic stockpile (1983-1996)
and was latterly an accredited NATO expert advising that organization's
Industrial Policy Committee on raw materials supply.
- It is important that the Committee should give
sufficient weight to the economic and geopolitical aspects of
these issues and not be too engrossed in scientific and technological
- The methodology for selecting the metals to be
included should be carefully considered and also transparent.
Relevant factors differ markedly between different metals.
- The Committee is right to state that "the
exact impact of such a decline [in availability] on UK high technology
industries is unclear". Assessing this impact is likely to
be the most difficult part of the task.
1. Is there a global shortfall etc.
1.1 Historically, global shortfalls have led to upward
price movements that in turn lead to increased production. However
in the case of minerals and metals new production capacity can
take years to bring on stream. Any decision about new capacity
is governed by perceptions about the duration of the supply problem.
1.2 For industrial consumers the price of some metals
is far less important than reliability of supply.
1.3 Obviously consumers prefer to pay the lowest
negotiable prices for raw materials but diversification of supply
with a consequent price "penalty" may be thought worthwhile
in order to ensure supply.
2. How vulnerable is the UK to etc.
2.1 The USA has kept a stockpile of strategic/critical
minerals for several decades, although it is now reduced in scope.
It was very costly to maintain.
2.2 HM Government formerly had a small stockpile
of strategic minerals. It was set up by the DTI in 1983 and its
abolition was then announced in November 1984. In fact the last
sales were not made until 1996. The materials concerned were never
disclosed by the DTI but in its issue of 30th July 1985 the commercial
journal "Metal Bulletin" published estimates for tonnages
of certain metals and alloys in the stockpile. The list comprised
forms of chromium, cobalt, manganese and vanadium.
2.3 You should also be aware of the House of Lords
(1982) Strategic Minerals. Report of the Select Committee on the
European Communities. HMSO, London. Although produced twenty-eight
years ago, it may be useful to look at the methodology used to
reach its conclusions. Essentially this report defined "strategic
minerals" on the basis of the twin components of "criticality"
and "vulnerability". Criticality was based on the view
that the mineral was essential to the national economy. Vulnerability
was based on the proportion of domestic consumption, which was
imported and the number of overseas supply sources contributing
to that supply. The fewer and more unstable the sources the more
vulnerable the supply.
3. How desirable, easy and cost-effective to recover
and recycle etc.
3.1 I am not aware that there is any difference between
"recover" and "recycle" The former is tending
to be used by commercial entities as a fashionable catchword.
4. Are there substitutes for those metals etc.
4.1 Substitution lies under similar constraints as
investment in new capacity. It may be technically and scientifically
feasible, but commercially impossible in the short and medium
terms for reasons to do with contractual specifications
5. What opportunities are there to work internationally
5.1 I comment on this question simply to point out
that it uses the word "substituting" in the vulgar sense
used by football commentators. This word does not mean
"replacing" - which is the meaning intended in your
document. In football it doesn't matter. In materials science
G R Chapman PhD FGS CGeol