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Blood Tantalum – how our gadget habit affects the world’s war zones


[Photo from Open Anthropology]

There’s a fascinating article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald on the illegal world-wide trade in minerals, specifically what has become known as blood tantalum. Most people would be aware of conflict or blood diamonds and how the profits from selling them are used to finance wars in strife-torn areas. As more and more international pressure is being brought to bear on this diamond trade, some of the rebel groups are turning to other minerals to finance their activities, namely Tantalum.


Tantalum is used in high powered resistors and more commonly, capacitors and it can be found in pretty much any high-tech device you could name. This global demand means that manufacturers and their suppliers are always after cheaper and more plentiful supplies. One of the architects of the illegal tantalum trade was Viktor Bout, known to anyone who has seen the Nicholas Cage film Lord of War as Cage’s character was based on events from Bout’s career. In the 90’s Bout’s fleet of cargo planes helped transport raw tantalum ore out of the war zones to refiners and helped kickstart the illegal commodity boom. Bout is out of the business at the moment as he’s currently awaiting extradition to the US on gun-running charges but the tantalum trade keeps running without him.


[Photo from Lifeschool]

So how does all this come back to your gadget habit? Well as consumers buy newer, faster and smaller gadgets each year, gadget suppliers have to continually bring the costs down. This places pressure on the supply chain and materials end up being sourced wherever they can be found. In late April, a bill titled Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 was introduced into the US congress. It is hoped this bill will compel American companies to disclose the origins of three specific commodity minerals that are found in the Congo area. By bringing these kinds of deals into the spotlight, and to consumer’s attention, a better deal may be able to be struck and some of the avenues for selling these blood commodities will be closed.

Tags: conflict+minerals, tantalum, conflict+tantalum, blood+tantalum

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