Crikey Clarifier: what’s all the fuss about rare earths? http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/07/01/crikey-clarifier-whats-all-the-fuss-about-rare-earths/ by Crikey Intern Bondi resident Natalie Lowrey was suddenly released without charge on Friday night after five days’ detention in a Malaysian prison. Lowrey, who was born in New Zealand, was arrested last week in Kuantan, Malaysia, for protesting against the processing of rare earths by Australian minerals giant Lynas Corp. We delve into some of the issues surrounding the case.
What are rare earths?
Rare earths are chemical elements found in the earth’s crust that are vital to many modern technologies, including electronics such as speakers, computers, hybrid cars and wind turbines. Rare earths have unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties that help technologies perform more efficiently. They are particularly valuable for use in smartphones, and are in high demand.
What is Lynas Corp, and what is it doing in Malaysia?
Lynas Corporation Ltd is an ASX 100 listed company based in Sydney, Australia. It is currently constructing the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP), a rare earth processing plant at Gebeng, near Kuantan, Malaysia.
Lynas’ rare earth project has sparked protests in Australia and Malaysia over fears about possible negative health, environmental and economic impacts once the plant begins its operation, as it will produce radioactive material as a waste product. Although the rare earths are extracted in Western Australia, the potentially hazardous processing will take place in Malaysia.
Is there any evidence processing rare earths is dangerous?
Mitsubishi Chemicals Asian Rare Earths, a plant in Bukit Merah, Malaysia, was shut down in the 1992 after at least eight cases of leukaemia and a sudden surge in birth defects and miscarriages in the area. The plant was finally closed after an eight-year battle and is currently undergoing the largest clean-up in the rare earth industry at a cost of US$100 million. Cleaning up requires digging up the entire area of contamination and entombing it inside a mountain.
A spokesperson from Lynas told Crikey: “The Asian Rare Earth plant used the waste from tin mining as its raw material. Lynas raw material contains naturally low levels of thorium, which are 30-40 times lower than rare earth concentrates from tin mine tailings. By all international standards, the Lynas raw material is classified as safe, non-toxic and non-hazardous.”
But Dr David KL Quek, former president of the Malaysia Medical Association, has said:
“Thorium is an acknowledged waste product from the planned Lynas refinery of rare earth ores. Due to the various refining processes thorium will be enriched and concentrated to levels which could reach quantities that are difficult to contain or be safely sequestrated.
“Based on the preliminary Environmental Impact Agency report, thorium residues would lead to a sizeable radioactivity dose of some 62 Becquerel per gram. For 106 tonnes this would be an enormous quantity of radioactive residual thorium.”
Wastes from production will include radioactive thorium and uranium and their radioactive decay products such as radium and radon. Australian authorities have explicitly refused to allow the wastes to be shipped back to Australia for safe disposal.
The Malaysian government has been more open to rare earths processing than the Australian government.
Phua Kai Lit, an associate professor of the Jeffery Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash University in Malaysia, told Crikey: “The Prime Minister, as well as the Chief Minister of the state of Pahang, are both strong supporters of the project. Similarly, political appointees such as the various ministers from ministries involved with the project echo the government’s line. The head of the main regulatory body, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board, also echoes the government’s line.
A spokesperson told Crikey Lynas plans to recycle the waste from the LAMP refining process into co-products such as plaster boards and cement. Two out of three of these products have been certified as non-radioactive by the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board.
The AELB is in charge of approving and monitoring radioactive industries and received an undisclosed sum by Lynas Corp in 2011. However the AELB denied the sum was a requirement.
Calls renew for Lynas shutdown after third death at plant Malaysian Insider, 14 Dec 13 Opponents of the Lynas Advance Materials Plant in Pahang have renewed calls for the closure of the controversial rare earth refinery following the death of an engineer who drowned in a pond at the facility yesterday. The Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) movement said the fatal accident, the third in two years at the plant near Kuantan, Pahang, should be viewed seriously, and warranted a full investigation.
“This is very serious. We are demanding the government shut down the Lynas Advance Materials Plant immediately and cease all activities in the plant until a full and comprehensive independent investigation is completed by the relevant authorities like the Department of Occupational Safety and Health to establish the nature and cause/s of the fatal accident,” its chairman Tan Bun Teet said today…….
The plant in Gebeng has been mired in controversy after residents claimed it emits the hazardous thorium compound that can cause cancer among humans. It is known that the processing of rare earth materials would produce a thorium by-product.
The Australian-owned plant’s ability to obtain a temporary licence, despite not revealing a waste disposal facility, has enraged activists who have opposed the company’s practices and the government for allowing such a plant within a 30km radius of 700,000 residents.
Groups have called for the government and Lynas shareholders to remove the company’s operations from Malaysia amid the company’s poor performance in the Australian bourse due to weakened rare earth prices.
SMSL said although previously some of the firm’s shareholders had wanted to conduct best practices in its operations abroad, it has been business as usual for Lynas.
However, yesterday’s death has given the group more cause to question the plant’s operational procedures and safety hazards……http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/calls-renew-for-lynas-shutdown-after-third-death-at-plant
“Section 11 of the law allows the minister to direct regulators toward certain policies and so there’s massive conflict of interest,” said Dr Peter Karamoskos, an Australian nuclear radiologist.
Problems at Lynas factory can cause radioactive leaks, say experts The Malaysian Insider, 24 Nov 13, Prevailing problems in waste management, storage, disposal facility and waste cleaning at the Lynas factory can lead to radioactive leakages if the Australian firm fails to address the issues, said experts t at a seminar in Kuala Lumpur today.
The mining company’s refinery near Kuantan, Pahang, has several problems, which experts said in the event of an accident or carelessness, could harm to residents near the factory. Continue reading
Lynas drops case against Malaysia greens AAP JUNE 18, 2013 AUSTRALIAN rare earths miner Lynas Corporation has dropped defamation action against a Malaysian green group. In April last year, Lynas initiated legal proceedings against Save Malaysia Stop Lynas.
Two months later, independent media website Free Malaysia Today apologised for running stories sympathetic to the activists, who opposed plans for a processing plant. Lynas Corporation chief executive Eric Noyrez on Tuesday said solicitors had been instructed to discontinue legal action against the activist group.
“There is no value in continuing disputes with members of our local community,” he said in a statement.
“Therefore, Lynas intends to instruct its solicitors to discontinue its defamation claim against the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group.”…. Lynas shares fell 1.25 cents, or 2.84 per cent, to 42.75 cents following the statement’s release.http://www.heraldsun.com.au/business/breaking-news/lynas-drops-case-against-malaysia-greens/story-fni0xqe4-1226665659143
Lynas’ waste plans a toxic pipe dream Aliran, 19 December 2012 by Wendy Bacon ” ……While Lynas says it is confident in the current by-product plans, they are yet to be tested. Dr Peter Karamoskas, who has been a nuclear radiologist for 13 years and represents the Australian public on the Radiation Safety Committee of Australia’s nuclear safety agency, shares none of that confidence.
Speaking on his own behalf, Karamoskas said that to be safe more than a million tons of WLP residue with a radioactive reading of 6Bq have to be mixed with five times the amount of aggregate to reduce its reading to 1Bq. While he said that a similar process had been used in the Netherlands, the waste was far less radioactive, sitting near 1Bq, which is the threshold for safety.
Karamoskas said it has never been used with material with the Lamp WLP reading of 6Bq. He says that it is extremely unlikely to be a long term solution from a safety or economic point of view: “If this was all ready to go they would be trumpeting it in the public arena … already it looks slippery. If this was possible wouldn’t most countries around the world be doing it?” He thinks it is extremely unlikely that the road mix could be imported, other than to a country with “lax standards” because it would breach international best practice standards. Continue reading
The IAEA also recommended that Lynas proceed no further until it had filed comprehensive plans for the permanent disposal of waste, decommissioning of the plant and remediation of the site at the end of its life.
Lynas’ waste plans a toxic pipe dream Aliran, 19 December 2012 Scientists and community leaders are concerned about radioactive waste from Lynas’ Malaysian plant but the company representative who took Wendy Bacon’s questions brushed off the criticism. This is the second of two articles about Lynas by Wendy Bacon.Read the first here.http://aliran.com/11005.html
Australian rare earth company Lynas has always known it had a waste problem.
It plans to process rare earth concentrate, imported from its mine at Mount Weld in Western Australia, at its Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) in Malaysia. It will not only produce rare earths for export but also a huge amount of waste, including more than a million cubic metres of low level radioactive material. Continue reading
Lynas’ waste plans a toxic pipe dream Aliran, 19 December 2012 Scientists and community leaders are concerned about radioactive waste from Lynas’ Malaysian plant but the company representative who took Wendy Bacon’s questions brushed off the criticism. This is the second of two articles about Lynas by Wendy Bacon “………Shutting down the critics
New Matilda asked to interview Lynas Executive Chairperson Nick Curtis but he was not available. Instead we interviewed a Lynas spokesperson who insists that the waste products of the Lamp project are “not hazardous in any way”. He refers to the safety record of Lynas which in “all of its constructions … has been achieved with zero lost time injury”.
When New Matilda suggested that problems are more likely to arise in the long term, even 20 or 30 years away, he replied: “I would be lying if I categorically tell you there is no risk in 20 or 30 years time from anything. What I can tell you is that the unanimous conclusion of all of the scientific experts from all of the different organisations that have investigated this material and everything else is that there will be no discernible risk for the public or anyone else from this facility.”
But this is far from true.
For example, in April this year, the National Toxic Network (NTN), a community-based network “working to ensure a toxic-free future for all”, published a preliminary assessment of the waste steam of Lynas’s Lamp project. It was prepared by Lee Bell, a qualified environmental scientist with 20 years experience in analysis of industrial process plants, groundwater monitoring and contaminated sites. He co-chaired the Core Consultative Committee on Waste under the former Labor government in Western Australia, which reformed the state’s hazardous waste sector. Readers of his 29 page NTN report (pdf), which was reviewed by another scientist, are likely to be concerned about the company’s environmental plans.
I asked Lynas’ spokesperson about the NTN report: “Whatever you think of it, it [the report] is a solid document. It appears to be academically referenced and it also appears to have had some form of review. If you read it, on a number of scores, you would be concerned?”…..
The Lynas spokesman rejected an NTN claim that Lamp’s location on a reclaimed swamp with a high rainfall is relevant to disposal of low level radioactive waste. Asked if he was aware it was a “marshy site”, he said, “I have no idea”. He explained that although there is a pristine fishing village and beach at Kuantan three and a half kilometres away on the coast, “if there is a risk there, it is much wider than just Lynas because the Lamp is in a petrochemical zone”. In fact, the site is on a reclaimed peat swamp……..http://aliran.com/11018.html
” there will be no discernible risk for the public or anyone else from this facility.”
But this is far from true.
Lynas’ waste plans a toxic pipe dream Aliran, 19 December 2012 Scientists and community leaders are concerned about radioactive waste from Lynas’ Malaysian plant but the company representative who took Wendy Bacon’s questions brushed off the criticism. “…….
New Matilda asked to interview Lynas Executive Chairperson Nick Curtis but he was not available. Instead we interviewed a Lynas spokesperson who insists that the waste products of the Lamp project are “not hazardous in any way”. Continue reading
Lynas’ waste plans a toxic pipe dream Aliran, 19 December 2012 Scientists and community leaders are concerned about radioactive waste from Lynas’ Malaysian plant but the company representative who took Wendy Bacon’s questions brushed off the criticism. “……Discrediting sources is a familiar public relations tactic used by companies to protect themselves against journalists relying on their critics as sources. So NM asked if the company had prepared a response to the NTN report. The spokesperson said it had but it was “unfortunately contained material before a [Malaysian] court and I can’t share that with you”.
The NTN report deals with Lamp waste steams which include non radioactive fluoride, dust particulates, gas, acidic waste water as well as more than 22000 tonnes of low level Water Leach Purification (WLP) radioactive waste which a year. The most critical issue is the control and disposal of the WLP wastes — which for radioactive material may mean for many hundreds of years.
On the basis of specific criticisms, NTN has two main recommendations. First, that the temporary licence issued by the AELB should be revoked until the issue of long term waste disposal is resolved and second, that the plant should not be allowed to operate until the release of millions of litres of effluent into the Balok River that runs past the site has been “further modelled and assessed”.
“The lack of data on these issues (the impact on the river) means the Lynas EIA is well below international standards and insufficient for granting of operational licences,” theNTN says; the Lamp temporary licence would never have been granted in Australia…….http://aliran.com/11018.html
Lynas will be in court in Malaysia on 19 December. The Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) campaignerswill be appealing against the Kuantan High Court decision to lift its stay on the company being able to exercise its rights to proceed under the temporary licence.
The toxic waste that’s not in Australia’s backyard http://aliran.com/11005.html 18 Dec 12, Australian-owned company Lynas is quietly shipping rare earth to a processing plant in Malaysia – without a firm plan in place to dispose of dangerous radioactive waste. Wendy Bacon reports.
If a manufacturing plant involving radioactive materials moved into your community, one of the first things you would ask is, “what’s going to happen to the waste?”
This is exactly how residents of Kuantan on Malaysia’s east coast reacted when the Australian company Lynas announced plans to build Lamp, the world’s biggest rare earth processing plant in their area.
Several years later, they have no clear answer. Indeed last week, while the plant that will use concentrate imported from Lynas’s rare earth mine at Mount Weld in Western Australia was finally ramping up for production, the Malaysian government and the company were in direct conflict about what would happen to the waste. Continue reading
Ten months have passed, and a safe permanent depository has yet to be identified and agreed upon by all parties. Instead Lynas is still talking of rendering the waste “safe”. Continue reading
The rally is a culmination of a 13-day march against the plant’s opening
Kuala Lumpur: 10,000 protest rare earth plant over health concerns Environmental activist group Himpunan Hijau organized the rally against the opening of rare earth company Lynas’ new plant. Global Post,Talia Ralph November 25, 2012 early 10,000 people took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur Sunday to protest the opening of Australia-based mining company Lynas’ new rare earth plant. Continue reading
Lynas rare earths company trying to overturn Western Australia law against importing radioactive wastes
Lynas left holding the baby, Aliran, 14 September 2012 If Lynas Corporation thinks that Western Australia will take its radioactive waste, it can think again, asserts Robin Chapple. Lynas has now submitted an application to the regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), to import radioactive waste from Malaysia,” an Australian High Commission spokesman told The Malaysian Insider today.
This revelation beggars belief as just a few days ago a two-year temporary licence to operate was granted to Lynas, who intend to ship radioactive ores through Fremantle Port to export them to their plant in Malaysia, now seem to be asserting that they should be able to import the wastes of those ores back onto Australian soil.
Malaysia’s nuclear regulator Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) had said that the Australian miner was legally bound to remove radioactive waste from its Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) and return the residue to Australia under conditions of the temporary operating licence.
However, this news flies in the face of Australian government policy, and indeed Western Australian legislation, which asserts that Australia does not accept or import radioactive waste from other countries.
Robin Chapple MLC, Greens spokesperson for Mining Issues, commented on Lynas’ recent move: “It seems that again Lynas thinks it is outside the law as it is operating in Malaysia, and may be subject to less rigorous legal scrutiny. Well, it isn’t, and if it thinks that Western Australia will take this radioactive waste, it can think again.
“It didn’t consult with community on shipping its radioactive ores through Fremantle port, and it certainly hasn’t consulted on shipping back the radioactive waste. The WA Nuclear Waste Storage (Prohibition) Act 1999 prohibits it here. Period!
But really, you have to laugh. Lynas has now been tripped up by its own lack of willingness to take heed of Australia’s expectations with respect to sustainable mining and environmental, social and legal standards, and hasn’t it got it’s come-uppance. Talk about being left holding the baby!… http://aliran.com/10198.html
The world will witness one of the biggest civil disobedience events in this nation”
Mr Ibrahim has demanded that Australians ”hear the frustrations of Malaysians” over the project.
First Weld war looms – Malaysians mobilise to fight Lynas plant, The Age, September 13, 202 Lindsay MurdochACTIVISTS are planning a multi-pronged attack to try to stop the Australian miner Lynas Corp opening a rare earths
processing plant in Malaysia.
Opposition parties, led by Anwar Ibrahim, are also planning to make the $230 million plant a key issue of the country’s national elections, which must be held by April next year. They have vowed to shut the plant if they oust the government. Continue reading
Protests Promised Over License for Malaysia Rare Earth Plant NYT, By LIZ GOOCH KUALA , 6 Sept, LUMPUR — Activists who have waged a lengthy campaign against a rare earth refinery in Malaysia refused to back down Thursday after the authorities gave the Australian company behind the project the green light to proceed.
One group has vowed to blockade the port in the Malaysian town of Kuantan, near the plant, if the company, Lynas, tries to import raw earth materials from Australia.
“We are prepared to paralyze the whole port until the raw materials leave our port,” said Wong Tack, chairman of the group, Himpunan Hijau. “The world will witness one of the biggest civil disobedience events in this nation.”…. Lynas said that it would address the “principal cause of the community anxiety” — what to do with the radioactive byproducts from the plant — by turning the material into “processed co-products” for use mainly in manufacturing, like materials for roads and buildings. The materials would be exported, the company said. The company’s statement did not say to which countries it might export the products……
activists are not satisfied that the plant, estimated to cost 2.5 billion ringgit, or $802 million, will be safe.
“We will not allow an ounce of raw material to reach our shores,” said Mr. Wong, adding that Himpunan Hijau would recruit “thousands of people” to block the port 24 hours a day when the raw earth material arrived.
“We need to send the strongest warning to Lynas — don’t even dream about operation. This is an all-out war,” he said.
Another group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, said it was considering filing for a court injunction to try to stop the plant from operating.
Tan Bun Teet, the group’s chairman, said Save Malaysia Stop Lynas had already obtained leave from the courts for a judicial review of both the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s approval of the temporary operating license and of the decision by the minister of science, technology and innovation not to revoke the license.
He insisted that the board should have waited for the outcome of those judicial reviews before issuing the license…… The committee’s findings — that Lynas should receive the license because it had fulfilled legal provisions and standards more stringent than international standards — were dismissed by activists who claimed the committee was an attempt to “whitewash” the issue. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/business/global/protests-promised-over-license-for-malaysia-rare-earth-plant.html?_r=1
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