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Tibet Plateau May Quench China Thirst For Minerals (DJN)

Dow Jones Newswires
February 15, 2007

There are more than 600 new sites of copper, iron, lead and zinc ore deposits in China's Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which if exploited, could ease the country's shortage of mineral resources, a government agency said Wednesday.

The plateau is estimated to have 30 million to 40 million tonnes of copper resources, 40 million tonnes of lead and zinc resources and billions of tonnes of iron, according to the China Geological Survey, an agency responsible for mineral exploration under the Ministry of Land and Resources.

The agency has been surveying the area for the past seven years to look for mineral reserves.

"The figures are only conservative estimates and real reserves can be much larger," said Zhuang Yuxun, director of the CGS's Department Of Geological Investigation.

New discoveries of copper deposits in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau should be able to raise the country's copper concentrate output by 30 percent, or 250,000 tonnes, a year, the agency said.

Exploitation of three of the plateau's copper mines in Qulong, Pulang and Yangla regions has already begun, Zhuang said.

"The locations of newly discovered copper reserves are close to the Qinghai-Tibet railway so the new supply can come to the market in two to three years," he added.

With transport infrastructure in place and private investors' rising interest in developing mines, it will not be too long before the reserves can help to alleviate the country's need for copper, Zhuang said.

The CGS also discovered three large high-grade iron ore deposits in the area, including a rich one in the center of the plateau with reserves topping 500 million tonnes.

The iron content of the ore deposits is at 55 percent to 70 percent, compared with the country's average level of 23 percent to 24 percent, Zhuang said.

About 90 percent of China's current iron ore supply is low grade.

However, Zhuang said it will take time to see actual supply coming in "as locations of iron reserves are in more remote areas."

The Qinghai-Tibet plateau in China's far west is at an average height of 4,300 meters above sea level, and covers 2.6 million square kilometers.

It covers most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai province, and part of Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The Chinese government discovered the rich resources decades ago, but mineral exploration stopped, partly because supply was then enough to meet the demand.

However, exploration for mineral resources is firmly back on the government's agenda now as the mainland has been increasingly relying on mineral imports to feed its economic growth.

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