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As deep as 1,600 meters under water and 1,500 km from Tokyo, work has begun on the new hunting ground for metals in Japan, a country so devoid of natural resources that most of what it needs has to be imported.

As the nation depleted most of its land-based minerals in the economic boom that followed World War II, scientists have identified swaths of the sea floor littered with nuggets containing everything from copper to gold left over from the volcanic activity that created the archipelago millions of years ago. The trick is extracting them at a profit, something a government consortium will start testing next year.

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