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Lynas ready to fire up Malaysian rare earth plant

Snag cleared, science ministry rejected an appeal by residents to revoke a license.


June 19, 2012
by ASSOCIATED PRESS

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Australian miner Lynas Corp. hopes to fire up a plant in Malaysia to process rare earths – materials critical for manufacturing high-tech products – now that a parliamentary panel has ruled the project is safe.

The panel’s decision removed the final obstacle faced by Lynas, after the science ministry rejected an appeal by residents to revoke a license granted to Lynas earlier this year.

Lynas said the findings of the parliamentary panel was “yet another affirmation of the science” behind its 2.5 billion ringgit ($793 million) plant in northern Pahang state and the safety features built into it.

“We look forward to the issuance of the temporary operating license so we can demonstrate that safety to the Malaysian community,” it said in a brief statement to The Associated Press.

Rare earths are 17 minerals used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, weapons, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, mercury-vapour lights, and camera lenses. China has about a third of the world’s rare earth reserves but supplies about 90% of what is consumed. It has placed restrictions on exports, sparking shortages among manufacturers from Japan to the US.

Lynas has said its plant, the first rare earths refinery outside of China in years, has state-of-the-art pollution control.

Controversy over the project poses a headache to the government with general elections expected this year.

After a public hearing, the science ministry said there was no scientific or technical justification to withdraw the license but instead imposed two new conditions, telling Lynas to submit a plan to immobilize radioactive elements in its waste and an emergency response plan on dust control.

The parliamentary panel, set up by the government in April as another move to allay public concerns, said the Lynas plant was not a nuclear facility and would not cause any major hazards. It said any exposure to radioactive elements was likely minimal and would not damage health. It was satisfied with Lynas’ safety and environment protection plan. The panel has been boycotted by opposition lawmakers and dismissed by critics as another attempt to deceive the public.

The Lynas plant is expected to meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China. It will refine ore from Australia. Lynas said output for the first phase has been sold out for the next decade.

Malaysia’s last rare earths refinery – operated by Japan’s Mitsubishi group in northern Perak state – was closed in 1992 following protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukemia among residents. It is one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

China sets up rare earths group