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环保资源面临枯竭

2009-12-26 13:18

来源:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/26/business/global/26rare.html


Earth-Friendly Elements, Mined Destructively


环保资源面临枯竭



Zeng Guohui, 41, visiting an abandoned mine where he used to shovel ore from which rare-earth elements were extracted.


41岁的曾国辉和他曾经工作过的一个废弃稀土矿


        Some of the greenest technologies of the age, from electric cars to efficient light bulbs to very large wind turbines, are made possible by an unusual group of elements called rare earths. The world’s dependence on these substances is rising fast.


  现代的环保科技:从电动汽车到节能灯再到风力发电机,所有这些都需要一种稀有的资源--稀土。世界对这一资源的需求正在不断增加。





This abandoned mine in Guyun Village in China exhausted the local deposit of heavy rare-earth elements in three years.


  而在中国古云镇的这一废弃稀土矿,三年就已经挖光了所有资源。


Just one problem: These elements come almost entirely from China, from some of the most environmentally damaging mines in the country, in an industry dominated by criminal gangs.


  一个很重要的问题:稀土这种资源几乎全部蕴藏在中国,而且稀土矿已经成了中国矿业中最破坏环境,同时也被黑社会控制的产业。


Western capitals have suddenly grown worried over China’s near monopoly, which gives it a potential stranglehold on technologies of the future.


    西方国家很担忧中国对这一资源的垄断,这对未来科技的发展将造成潜在的影响


In Washington, Congress is fretting about the United States military’s dependence on Chinese rare earths, and has just ordered a study of potential alternatives.


  在华盛顿,国会就军方对稀土资源的依赖表示了忧虑,并提议研究一种替代品。


Here in Guyun Village, a small community in southeastern China fringed by lush bamboo groves and banana trees, the environmental damage can be seen in the red-brown scars of barren clay that run down narrow valleys and the dead lands below, where emerald rice fields once grew.


  而在古云镇,中国东南的一个小社会里,这里被郁郁葱葱的竹林和香蕉树环绕着。环境的破坏很明显能看到。地表下的红色粘土从峡谷上滑落下来,而下边就是绿色的农田。


Miners scrape off the topsoil and shovel golden-flecked clay into dirt pits, using acids to extract the rare earths. The acids ultimately wash into streams and rivers, destroying rice paddies and fish farms and tainting water supplies.


    矿工们挖去表层土,然后把这些闪着点点金光的粘土铲进一个灰坑内,用酸来提取出稀土矿。这些酸最终流进了溪水和河流中,稻田、鱼池和供水点的水质都受到了污染。


On a recent rainy afternoon, Zeng Guohui, a 41-year-old laborer, walked to an abandoned mine where he used to shovel ore, and pointed out still-barren expanses of dirt and mud. The mine exhausted the local deposit of heavy rare earths in three years, but a decade after the mine closed, no one has tried to revive the downstream rice fields.


     在一个即将下雨的下午,曾国辉,这个41岁的工人,来到了在他过去工作过的废弃矿井旁,这里仍然是一片泥泞的荒凉的地方。这个矿三年内就采光了所有的稀土矿。而在这座矿关闭10年后,仍然没有一个人敢复耕这座矿下游的农田。


Small mines producing heavy rare earths like dysprosium and terbium still operate on nearby hills. “There are constant protests because it damages the farmland — people are always demanding compensation,” Mr. Zeng said.


  在临近的山头,小规模的矿仍然大量挖掘着镝和铽这两种稀土资源。“因为挖矿污染环境因此常常有抗议,群众一致要求给予相应的补偿”。曾说道。


“In many places, the mining is abused,” said Wang Caifeng, the top rare-earths industry regulator at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in China.


  “在许多地方,稀土矿存在随意滥采的状况。”王彩凤说道,她是国家工业和信息化部负责稀土矿监管的一把手。


“This has caused great harm to the ecology and environment.”


        “这对生态和环境造成了很严重的影响。”


There are 17 rare-earth elements — some of which, despite the name, are not particularly rare — but two heavy rare earths, dysprosium and terbium, are in especially short supply, mainly because they have emerged as the miracle ingredients of green energy products. Tiny quantities of dysprosium can make magnets in electric motors lighter by 90 percent, while terbium can help cut the electricity usage of lights by 80 percent. Dysprosium prices have climbed nearly sevenfold since 2003, to $53 a pound. Terbium prices quadrupled from 2003 to 2008, peaking at $407 a pound, before slumping in the global economic crisis to $205 a pound.


    稀土矿包括17种元素,而其中的一些就像他们名字的含义一样,相当稀有,其中两种主要的稀土元素,镝和铽尤其紧缺。主要因为它们是一些环保产品的关键原料。极少量镝就能让发电机里的磁铁重量减轻90%。而铽能让照明灯节能80%。镝价格相比2003年翻了7倍,一磅卖53美元。铽从2003年到2008年里价格翻了两番,在顶峰时达到了每磅407美元。在全球金融危机前跌落到了每磅205美元。


China mines more than 99 percent of the world’s dysprosium and terbium. Most of China’s production comes from about 200 mines here in northern Guangdong and in neighboring Jiangxi Province.


  中国拥有世界上99%以上的镝和铽,在粤北和江西大约有200家矿山生产镝和铽。


China is also the world’s dominant producer of lighter rare earth elements, valuable to a wide range of industries. But these are in less short supply, and the mining is more regulated.


  中国也是世界上最大的稀土打火机生产地,稀土被广泛的在这一行业中使用,但是现在也相当紧缺,这一矿产现在管理的更加严格了。


Half the heavy rare earth mines have licenses and the other half are illegal, industry executives said. But even the legal mines, like the one where Mr. Zeng worked, often pose environmental hazards.


  工业主管部门表示一半的大型稀土矿有许可证,其他的矿山都属于非法开采。但即使是合法矿,比如曾先生工作的那家。也存在着环境问题。


A close-knit group of mainland Chinese gangs with a capacity for murder dominates much of the mining and has ties to local officials, said Stephen G. Vickers, the former head of criminal intelligence for the Hong Kong police who is now the chief executive of International Risk, a global security company.


   Stephen G. Vickers称一伙中国国内的谋杀犯罪团伙霸占了许多这种矿山,同时和当地官员拉关系。他是前香港警署刑警领导,现在在国际风险公司担任首席执行官,这是一家全球安保公司。


Mr. Zeng defended the industry, saying that he had cousins who owned rare-earth mines and were legitimate businessmen who paid compensation to farmers.


曾先生为这个行业辩护。他说他的表兄弟就在合法的稀土矿上工作,而矿主付给了农民一定的补偿。


The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a draft plan last April to halt all exports of heavy rare earths, partly on environmental grounds and partly to force other countries to buy manufactured products from China. When the plan was reported on Sept. 1, Western governments and companies strongly objected and Ms. Wang announced on Sept. 3 that China would not halt exports and would revise its overall plan. But the ministry subsequently cut the annual export quota for all rare earths by 12 percent, the fourth steep cut in as many years.


国家工业和信息化部4月份发布了一份草案,要求停止所有大型稀土矿的出口。一方面是基于环境方面的考虑,另一方面也为了迫使其他国家从中国购买稀土制成品。当这一草案在九月1日正式曝光后,西方政府和公司强烈反对这一方案,相关部门于是在9月3日发出通告,称中国不会停止稀土出口,同时会修改整个草案。但是工信部随后就削减了12%稀土矿出口配额,这相当于平均年份四分之一的出口量。


Congress responded to the Chinese moves by ordering the Defense Department to conduct a comprehensive review, by April 1, of the American military’s dependence on imported rare earths for devices like night-vision gear and rangefinders.


  美国国会在4月1日就要求国防部全面审查中国这一动作造成的影响,美军目前夜视仪和测距仪的生产都依赖于稀土矿的供应。



Western users of heavy rare earths say that they have no way of figuring out what proportion of the minerals they buy from China comes from responsibly operated mines. Licensed and illegal mines alike sell to itinerant traders. They buy the valuable material with sacks of cash, then sell it to processing centers in and around Guangzhou that separate the rare earths from each other.


  西方稀土资源的主要需求商表示他们没法估计他们需求的中国矿石规模,合法和非法矿山生产的矿石都卖给了中间商,而中间商们用成捆的现金购买这些宝贝矿石,然后在广州周围加工中心里提炼稀土。


Companies that buy these rare earths, including a few in Japan and the West, turn them into refined metal powders.


  西方和一些日本公司买下这些提炼品,然后再把它们制成金属粉末。


“I don’t know if part of that feed, internal in China, came from an illegal mine and went in a legal separator,” said David Kennedy, the president of Great Western Technologies in Troy, Mich., which imports Chinese rare earths and turns them into powders that are sold worldwide.


  “我不清楚那些从中国大陆过来的非法矿石在整个提炼制成品里大概占多少份额”。David Kennedy表示,他是密歇根州特洛伊市西部技术公司主席,这家公司进口中国稀土产品把他们制成金属粉末后销往世界各地。


Smuggling is another issue. Mr. Kennedy said that he bought only rare earths covered by Chinese export licenses. But up to half of China’s exports of heavy rare earths leave the country illegally, other industry executives said.


  走私是另外一种途径,Kennedy 表示他只从合法的中国出口商那里购买稀土,但是其他业内人士表示,中国一半的稀土出口都是非法的。


Zhang Peichen, deputy director of the government-backed Baotou Rare Earth Research Institute, said that smugglers mix rare earths with steel and then export the steel composites, making the smuggling hard to detect. The process is eventually reversed, frequently in Japan, and the rare earths are recovered. Chinese customs officials have stepped up their scrutiny of steel exports to try to stop this trick, one trader said.


  国家包头稀土研究所副主任张培辰(音)表示,走私犯通常把稀土和钢混在一起然后以混合钢的方式出口。这种办法很难监控。而一位交易商称,通常这种走私的目的地是日本,然后稀土就会被重新提炼。中国的海关官员已经计划严查钢材出口审批,试图阻止这种走私。


According to the Baotou institute, heavy rare-earth deposits in the hills here will be exhausted in 15 years. Companies want to expand production outside China, but most rare-earth deposits, unlike those in southern China, are accompanied by radioactive uranium and thorium that complicate mining.


  包头稀土研究所称,储量丰富的大型稀土矿将在15年内采尽。西方公司打算扩大中国以外的稀土矿产量,但这其中储量较大的稀土矿比中国华南的稀土矿复杂的多,这些矿往往伴生着放射性的铀和钍,开采起来很复杂。


Multinational corporations are starting to review their dependence on heavy rare earths. Toyota said that it bought auto parts that include rare earths, but did not participate in the purchases of materials by its suppliers. Osram, a large lighting manufacturer that is part of Siemens of Germany, said it used the lowest feasible amount of rare earths.


  跨国公司开始重新审视他们对稀土矿的依赖,丰田表示仍会采购含有稀土产品的汽车零部件,但不会再参与稀土供应商的原料采购。德国西门子的大型灯具制造商欧司朗也表示会尽可能的少用稀土资源


The biggest user of heavy rare earths in the years ahead could be large wind turbines, which need much lighter magnets for the five-ton generators at the top of ever-taller towers. Vestas, a Danish company that has become the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, said that prototypes for its next generation used dysprosium, and that the company was studying the sustainability of the supply. Goldwind, the biggest Chinese turbine maker, has switched from conventional magnets to rare-earth magnets.


  今年最大的稀土资源需求商首推大型风力发电业。他们需要让高耸的风力发电站发电机里的磁铁更轻些,这种发电机一般都安装在风力发电站的顶端,而且有5吨重。他们表示新一代的发电机将使用镝制成,这一行业正在考察镝资源的持续供应情况.金风是中国最大的风力发电机制造商,他们已经把常规磁铁换成了稀土磁铁.


Executives in the $1.3 billion rare-earths mining industry say that less environmentally damaging mining is needed, given the importance of their product for green energy technologies. Developers hope to open mines in Canada, South Africa and Australia, but all are years from large-scale production and will produce sizable quantities of light rare earths. Their output of heavy rare earths will most likely be snapped up to meet rising demand from the wind turbine industry.


  价值13亿美元的稀土产业对环境造成了严重的破坏,现在该让这种破坏减少了.业内人士表示.但考虑到稀土资源对环保能源产业的重要性,工业人士希望在加拿大\南非和澳大利亚建设稀土矿山,但是这些年生产规模的扩大使得稀土节能灯的产量也相当庞大,看来这些新建成的稀土矿会被抢购,而风能发电机产业的需求量也会上升.


“This industry wants to save the world,” said Nicholas Curtis, the executive chairman of the Lynas Corporation of Australia, in a speech to an industry gathering in Hong Kong in late November. “We can’t do it and leave a product that is glowing in the dark somewhere else, killing people.”


  "这项产业能拯救世界"澳大利亚莱纳斯公司董事长Nicholas Curtis在11月底香港举办的一次行业聚会上作出上述表示:“我们不能放弃这一产业,尤其是这将让很多地区的人们受益”。

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