The limited role for nuclear can be explained by the high upfront capital costs, limited access to financing, and uneven and tepid public support in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Public opposition has been especially evident in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.”
former Rosatom head Sergey Kirienko’s team has been excellent at drawing up and signing nonbinding nuclear agreements … Actually building nuclear plants seems to be beyond them.
Vietnam’s amazing nuclear journey – why it ended, what it means for South East Asia, Energy Post, November 29, 2016 by Jim Green On November 10, Vietnam took the historic decision to scrap its nuclear power program, after many decades of nuclear preparations, up to a ground-breaking ceremony at the first proposed nuclear site in the country in 2014. Jim Green, editor of Nuclear Monitor, published by WISE (World Information Service on Energy), tells the amazing story of nuclear power in Vietnam – and discusses what the Vietnamese decision means for the prospects of nuclear power in South East Asia. Courtesy of Nuclear Monitor.
On November 10, Duong Quang Thanh, CEO of staterun Electricity of Vietnam, said the government would propose the cancellation of plans for reactors at the two Ninh Thuan sites to the National Assembly. He added that nuclear power was not included (or budgeted for) in the power plan which runs until 2030 and had already been approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The National Assembly voted on November 22 to support the government’s decision to abandon plans to build nuclear power plants. Energy analyst Mycle Schneider said: “Vietnam is only the latest in a long list of countries, including more recently Chile and Indonesia, that have postponed indefinitely or abandoned entirely their plans for nuclear new-build.”
The decision to abandon nuclear power was primarily based on economics. Duong Quang Thanh said nuclear power is “not economically viable because of other cheaper sources of power.”
Le Hong Tinh, vice-chair of the National Assembly Committee for Science, Technology and Environment, said the estimated cost of four reactors at the two sites in Ninh Thuan province had nearly doubled to VND400 trillion (US$18 bn; €17.9 bn). The estimated price of nuclear-generated electricity had increased from 4‒4.5 US cents / kwh to 8 cents / kwh. Vietnam has spent millions of dollars on the project so far, Tinh said, but continuing the program would add more pressure to the already high public debt.
Another media report states that Japanese and Russian consultants said that the cost has escalated from the original estimate of US$10 billion to US$27 billion (€9.5‒25.6 bn). “The plants will have to sell power at around 8.65 cents a kWh, which is almost twice the rate approved in the project license and is not competitive at all,” according to the VN Express newspaper.
Vietnam’s rising public debt, which is nearing the government’s ceiling of 65% of GDP, was another reason for the program’s cancellation, saidCao Si Kiem, a National Assembly member and former governor of the central bank………
A May 2016 report by WWF-Vietnam and Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA) finds that 100% of Vietnam’s power can be generated by renewable energy technologies by 2050. There are many available renewable power sources in Vietnam including solar, wind, geothermal heat, biomass and ocean energy. The report contrasts three scenarios: business as usual (with only modest growth of renewables), a Sustainable Energy Scenario (81% renewable power generation by 2050) and an Advanced Sustainable Energy Scenario (100%).
Nuclear power in South East Asia – or not
A 2015 International Energy Agency report anticipates that nuclear power will account for just 1% of electricity generation in south-east Asia by 2040.
The report states: “All countries in Southeast Asia that are interested in deploying nuclear power face significant challenges. These include sourcing the necessary capital on favourable terms, creation of legal and regulatory frameworks, compliance with international norms and regulations, sourcing and training of skilled technical staff and regulators, and ensuring public support. … The limited role for nuclear can be explained by the high upfront capital costs, limited access to financing, and uneven and tepid public support in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Public opposition has been especially evident in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.”
A June 2016 media article began: “Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear-energy agency, is bullish on the outlook of its business in Southeast Asia after the speedy development of a project in Vietnam and a range of agreements with every country in the region except Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei.”
Nikolay Drozdov, director of Rosatom’s international business department, said Rosatom is focusing a lot of attention on south-east Asia, reflected by the decision to establish a regional headquarters in Singapore.
Russia has nuclear cooperation agreements with seven countries in south-east Asia ‒ Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. But not one of those seven countries ‒ or any other country in south-east Asia ‒ has nuclear power plants (the only exception is the Bataan reactor in the Philippines, built but never operated) and not one is likely to in the foreseeable future. Nor are other nuclear vendors likely to succeed where Russia is failing.
Drozdov said that after the (stalled) nuclear power project in Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia would likely be the next countries in the region to develop nuclear power.2 But Indonesia’s situation is much the same as Vietnam’s ‒ decades of wasted efforts with little to show for it (and the same could be said about Thailand).
Malaysia’s consideration of nuclear power is preliminary. Why would Russia be making such efforts in southeast Asia given that nuclear power prospects in the region are so dim? The answer may lie with domestic Russian politics. Given Rosatom’s astonishing industry in lining up non-binding nuclear agreements with over 20 countries ‒ ‘paper power plants’ as Vladimir Slivyak calls them ‒ we can only assume that such agreements are looked on favorably by the Russian government.
Slivyak writes: “These ‘orders’ are not contracts specifying delivery dates, costs and a clear timescale for loan repayments (in most cases the money lent by Russia for power plant construction comes with a repayment date). Eighty to ninety per cent of these reported arrangements are agreements in principle that are vague on details, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. … So it is clear that [former Rosatom head Sergey] Kirienko’s team has been excellent at drawing up and signing nonbinding nuclear agreements … Actually building nuclear plants seems to be beyond them.” http://energypost.eu/vietnam-dumps-nuclear-power-economic-reasons-rest-south-east-asia-may-follow/
Hitachi-GE to launch nuclear energy course in Malaysia, WNN 04 August 2016 Japan’s Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy has renewed an agreement with two Malaysian universities under which it will conduct a new international human resources development program to train workers for the nuclear power industry.
Hitachi-GE announced today that it has renewed an agreement with the National University of Malaysia (UKM) and the Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten), a private university operated by Malaysia’s largest power company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad.
Under the agreement, Hitachi-GE will run an international human resources development program for nuclear energy, leveraging a course that the company has jointly conducted with Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) for the past five years. So far the course has been held at venues in Southeast Asia and other regions and attended by more than 2000 students. For the new program, Hitachi-GE will work with Tokyo Tech, which has cooperation arrangements with UKM and Uniten……….http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Hitachi-GE-to-launch-nuclear-energy-course-in-Malaysia-0408164.html
1MDB Unit Bought by China Nuclear Firm Was Distressed, Auditor Says China General Nuclear Power bought Edra Global Energy from debt-laden 1MDB last year, WSJ, By YANTOULTRA NGUI May 26, 2016
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—An audit of a key energy group sold by troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. to a Chinese state-owned nuclear-power company flagged deep uncertainty over the company’s viability.
Notes from auditor Deloitte in the 140-page financial accounts of Edra Global Energy Bhd. for the year ended March 31, 2015, said the audit found “an existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group’s and company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
The auditor’s notes, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, are part of the most detailed account of Edra’s finances at the time that China General Nuclear Power Corp.purchased the firm for 9.83 billion ringgit ($2.4 billion) last November as the fund, known as 1MDB, was struggling to meet its debt obligations……..http://www.wsj.com/articles/1mdb-unit-bought-by-china-nuclear-firm-was-distressed-auditor-says-1464251503
Government prepares Act to pave way for nuclear programme http://www.theedgemarkets.com/my/article/government-prepares-act-pave-way-nuclear-programme By Ben Shane Lim / theedgemarkets.com | November 5, 2015 KUALA LUMPUR : The government is preparing to table a new Nuclear Energy Act that will pave the way for the country to adopt nuclear power into the energy mix by 2028.
The Act could be tabled in Parliament by next year, said Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili. However, Ongkili stressed that planning for nuclear power is still at a very early stage and not high on the ministry’s list of priorities.
“The original plan was to have nuclear make up 10% of generation capacity. This would diversify our energy sources. But since the unfortunate incident at Fukushima, [Japan], we are taking more time to study it,” Ongkili told reporters on the sidelines of the Fifth Korea-Malaysia Energy Cooperation Workshop here today.
The low commodity prices have also reduced the incentive to develop the nuclear programme swiftly. Not only are oil and gas prices low, coal is also at record low prices, noted Ongkili.
According to the 2014 Energy Sector Outlook report by the Energy Commission, there are plans to introduce nuclear power to the national grid by 2024. Ongkili said however, that deadline has since moved to 2028, noting that 13 years are plenty of time to study and develop a nuclear programme.
Normally, it takes 10 years to develop a nuclear power plant. “Dealing with the nuclear waste is one of the main issues we need to think about,” he added.For now, the government will place more focus on the renewable energy sector, which is targeted to make up 23% of generation capacity by 2020, said the minister.
Apart from the Nuclear Energy Act, Ongkili said the government plans to set up the institutional infrastructure necessary for the nuclear programme.
Environmental and safety issues aside, getting public support for a nuclear programme might be a challenge going forward, especially if it is more expensive than conventional power sources.
After all, with the removal of electricity subsidies and the introduction of the fuel cost pass-through mechanism, consumers will bear the full brunt of higher generation costs. Also not helping the case for nuclear power is the fact that Malaysia is able to produce its own natural gas.
Russian Minister of Economic Development Alexei Ulyukayev, who said this, added that his country was well-placed to build and support a national nuclear industry.
“We will propose a very sophisticated and complex construction of a local nuclear programme. We can construct nuclear power generation stations………http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/09/25/Russia-offers-nuclear-expertise-to-Msia/
The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.
Chronology of events in the Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth development http://www.consumer.org.my/index.php/health/454-chronology-of-events-in-the-bukit-merah-asian-rare-earth-developments Eight men — a welder, a shoemaker, a general worker, a pensioner, a barber, a tractor driver, a crane-operator and a cancer victim who was to die shortly — sued Asian Rare Earth in 1985 on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other residents of Bukit Merah and the environs in Perak. They wanted to shut down this rare earth plant in their village near Ipoh because its radioactive waste was endangering their lives.
When the Mitsubishi joint venture plant opened over 1982, the villagers soon began complaining of the factory’s stinging smoke and bad smell which made them choke and cry. Worse was to come. Their health began failing, indicated not only by frequent bouts of coughs and colds, but a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning.
For the first time in Malaysian legal history, an entire community has risen to act over an environmental issue, to protect their health and environment from radioactive pollution.
Below is the chronology of what happened when a radioactive rare earth plant was set up in Bukit Merah. Today, about 30 years later, the Government is allowing a new rare earth plant to be set up by Lynas in Gebeng, Kuantan. This new project should be scrapped if the Malaysian Government puts the health of Malaysians before profits. Continue reading
Mitsubishi Quietly Cleans Up Its Former Refinery http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside.html?_r=0 By KEITH BRADSHER : March 8, 2011 BUKIT MERAH, Malaysia — Hidden here in the jungles of north-central Malaysia, in a broad valley fringed with cave-pocked limestone cliffs topped with acacia and durian trees, lies the site of the largest radiation cleanup yet in the rare earth industry.
Residents blamed a rare earth refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases within five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years with no leukemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have since died.
The Bukit Merah case is little known even elsewhere in Malaysia, and virtually unknown in the West, because Mitsubishi Chemical quietly agreed to fix the problem even without a legal order to do so. Local protesters had contacted Japanese environmentalists and politicians, who in turn helped persuade the image-conscious company to close the refinery in 1992 and subsequently spend an estimated $100 million to clean up the site.
Image-burnishing was important because the company is part of the Mitsubishi Group of Companies, which has long made Malaysia the cornerstone of its southeast Asian operations. The group has dominant positions in manufacturing a range of products, including air-conditioners and cars.
Mitsubishi Chemical also reached an out-of-court settlement with residents here by agreeing to donate $164,000 to the community’s schools, while denying any responsibility for illnesses.
Osamu Shimizu, the director of Asian Rare Earth, the Mitsubishi Chemical subsidiary that owns the mine, declined to discuss details of the factory’s operation before it closed in 1992. But he said that the company was committed to a safe and complete cleanup.
Workers in protective gear have already removed 11,000 truckloads of radioactively contaminated material, hauling away every trace of the old refinery and even tainted soil from beneath it, down to the bedrock as much as 25 feet below, said Anthony Goh, the consultant overseeing the project for one of Mitsubishi’s contractors, GeoSyntec, an Atlanta-based firm.
To dispose of the radioactive material, engineers have cut the top off a hill three miles away in a forest reserve, buried the material inside the hill’s core and then entombed it under more than 20 feet of clay and granite.
The toughest part of the Bukit Merah cleanup will come this summer, when robots and workers in protective gear are to start trying to move more than 80,000 steel barrels of radioactive waste from a concrete bunker. They will mix it with cement and gypsum, and then permanently store it in the hilltop repository.
The refinery processed slag from old tin mines — material rich in rare earth ore. The company and Malaysian regulators said that it was statistically possible that the leukemia cases were a coincidence because tin mining towns tend to have above-average levels of background radiation. But an academic study of another tin mining town suggested that communities of Bukit Merah’s size should only have one leukemia case every 30 years.
Lai Kwan, aged 69, still recalls how she cheerfully moved in the 1980s from a sawmill job to a better-paying position in the refinery that involved proximity to radioactive materials. She remembers that while pregnant, she was told to take an unpaid day off only on days when the factory bosses said that a particularly dangerous consignment of ore had arrived.
She has spent the last 29 years washing, dressing, feeding and otherwise taking care of her son from that pregnancy, who was born with severe mental and physical disabilities. She and other local residents blame the refinery for the problems, although birth defects can have many causes.
“We saw it as a chance to get better pay,” Ms. Lai recalled. “We didn’t know what they were producing.”
Putrajaya ‘hell-bent’ on nuclear plant despite public concerns, says consumer group Malaysian Insider, 1 February 2015 Plans to build a nuclear plant in Malaysia are afoot, warned a consumer group, and said Putrajaya was misleading the public into thinking that it will consult the people on the use of nuclear energy when it had already decided to proceed with a bill to be table in Parliament this year.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president SM Mohamed Idris said the government was “hell-bent” on introducing nuclear power in the country’s energy mix and highlighted statements made by energy officials over the past year and recently which indicated that Malaysia was intent on adopting nuclear energy.
As proof, he cited the setting up of the Malaysian Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC) in January 2011, and the listing of nuclear energy as an entry point project in the Economic Transformation Programme in 2010.
“The government is hell-bent on introducing nuclear energy in the country’s energy mix.
“It is disingenuous of the government to continue misleading the public with its standard response line that a decision has yet to be made and the government is still exploring the option to go nuclear,” he said in a statement today.
Mohamed also said Putrajaya had announced its intention to table the Atomic Energy Regulatory Bill in August last year, and that the announcement was welcomed by MNPC chief executive officer, Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar, who said MNPC was hopeful that the bill would be approved by Parliament this year.
Malaysia, a nett oil exporter, has, in the past, floated the idea of adding nuclear power to its energy mix to meet long-term fuel needs, but such announcements were always greeted with public disapproval.
In 2010, the minister of energy, green technology and water then, Tan Sri Peter Chin, announced plans to build a nuclear plant that would start operations in 2021.
In July last year, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mah Siew Keong, who oversees the MNPC, had also said that feasibility studies would be conducted on building nuclear plants as a sustainable energy option for Malaysia.
There is no indication yet of where the proposed nuclear plant would be built, but remote locations close to water sources are required in line with international rules. This would leave a limited number of states, such as Pahang, Johor and Terengganu, as possible locations……….
CAP also called upon the public to denounce the soon-to-be completed Malaysian Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development Plan as an “undemocratic and authoritarian” plan. – February 1, 2015. – See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/putrajaya-hell-bent-on-nuclear-plant-says-consumer-group#sthash.2irEgUtq.dpuf
AMAN is convinced that nuclear power is neither cheap, clean nor safe. “It is not required for the generation of electricity in Malaysia,” said Aman chairman Dr. Ronald McCoy in a statement.
“AMAN therefore rejects the construction of any nuclear power plant (NPP) in Malaysia.”
AMAN, according to its statement, has taken this position, based on seven key factors: possibility of nuclear weapons proliferation; energy security; extremely expensive; vulnerable to natural disasters and accidents; a ticking time bomb; Malaysia’s existing and planned electricity by other means are sufficient; and the rate of construction of NPPs is skydiving.
AMAN was aware of the ongoing dissemination of false information by the nuclear industry and other vested interests, added the NGO, and “there has not been any genuine transparency of the government’s intentions nor sincere public consultation”.
“Our country must not make the serious mistake of investing in and constructing a nuclear power plant, particularly when there is no existing method of safely disposing the long-lasting radioactive nuclear waste, which will threaten the health of future generations of Malaysians.”
Globally, the use of nuclear power as an energy source was in decline, the statement points out.
Solar Rises in Malaysia During Trade Wars Over Panels, NYT, By KEITH BRADSHERDEC. 11, 2014 KULIM, Malaysia — Tucked away in this former tin-mining town, past the small farms of banana trees and oil palms, is one of the solar industry’s best-kept secrets.
The six factories here with cavernous rooms up to one-third of a mile long constitute the production backbone of First Solar. Working alongside minivan-size robots adapted from car assembly plants and other industries, 3,700 employees produce five-sixths of the American company’s solar panels. Workers in Ohio make the rest.
The list of manufacturers is long. Panasonic of Japan has a solar panel factory a mile down the road. SunEdison makes wafers 60 miles away in Chemor. Hanwha Q Cells and SunPower have giant factories even farther south, while Solexel, a Silicon Valley start-up, is preparing to build an $810 million solar panel factory in stages.
Malaysia, a Southeast Asian nation with just 30 million people, is the biggest winner in the trade wars that have embroiled the solar sector. As Chinese companies have been hit with American tariffs and European quotas, Malaysia has increasingly attracted multinationals with its relatively low labor costs, lucrative tax breaks, warm relations with the West and abundance of English-speaking engineering talent.
Malaysia is now the world’s third-largest producer of solar equipment, trailing China by a wide margin but catching up rapidly with the European Union. And Malaysia’s role in the global solar trade is only likely to increase in the coming months if the American government broadens tariffs on panels made in China next Tuesday as expected……
The solar manufacturing boom in Malaysia has been almost invisible, a rarity in an industry known for heavily promoting even the smallest factory opening or new solar panel farm as progress toward cleaner energy……..
Trade wars have helped some American companies. SolarWorld, a big manufacturer that has led trade litigation against China, recently said that it was expanding capacity by 150 megawatts and adding 200 jobs at its main solar panel factory in Hillsboro, Ore. It partly pointed to the trade actions that had slowed the flood of Chinese imports.
But production in Malaysia, already triple the United States’ output, is rising faster. The latest project underway in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, is an 800-megawatt solar module factory for Hanwha Q Cells. First Solar is putting the finishing touches on a 100-megawatt factory here to supply the Japanese market.
Malaysia is a beneficiary of the complex interaction of global trade rules, economic competitiveness and environmental policies in the solar industry. Tariffs have had the most immediate effect………. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/12/business/energy-environment/solar-rises-in-malaysia-during-trade-wars-over-panels.html
US: We’ll help build nuclear plant The Star 26 Oct KUALA LUMPUR: The United States is willing to help Malaysia should it decide to build a nuclear power plant, says American diplomat Laura E. Kennedy.
Kennedy, charge d’affaires at the Permanent Mission of the US to the International Organisations in Vienna, said her country had a long standing nuclear power industry with the right expertise………
The envoy, who is in the country to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, said Malaysians should be aware that nuclear technology could be beneficial in fields such as health and agriculture……http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/10/26/US-Well-help-build-nuclear-plant/
IAEA reports no long-term plan for Lynas waste, Malaysian Insider 17 October 2014 The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday gave a passing safety grade to a controversial Malaysia rare earths plant, but raised concerns that there was no long-term plan for properly disposing of the plant’s potentially radioactive waste.
The rare earths processing plant in the state of Pahang has generated opposition from green groups who fear radioactive contamination and have accused authorities and Lynas of overriding public concern.
In a report, the IAEA said it saw little risk of contamination due to the low-level radiation involved, and that its investigators were “not able to identify any instances of non-compliance” with international standards. “Lynas needs to demonstrate that the disposal of solid waste can be carried out in a safe manner over the long-term,” the report said.
It recommended that Malaysian authorities require Lynas to come up with a plan.
“There is a lack of a plan for managing the waste from the decommissioning and dismantling of the plant at the end of its life,” it said……
However, it also appeared to underscore environmentalists’ concerns that Australian miner Lynas Corp has no long-term plan for the disposal of waste from the plant.- http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/iaea-teams-says-lynas-plant-generates-low-level-radioactive-waste-bernama#sthash.JEFk1poD.dpuf
DAP blasts BN’s nuclear power plans, calls it a threat to health, safety, The Malaysian Insider By LOOI SUE-CHERN 8 August 2014 Barisan Nasional (BN) is putting profit ahead of the interest of the people if it goes ahead with plans to build two nuclear power reactors in the country, said the DAP.
Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng (pic) said BN would be gambling with the people’s health and safety if it goes ahead with the plans. Lim disagreed with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, who had said that Malaysia cannot continue on an energy status quo and nuclear energy was a serious option for energy resources sustainability.
“Mah is wrong because Malaysia will be able to shift to a sustainable energy paradigm without relying on nuclear power plants,” Lim said in a statement today.
The Penang chief minister said Putrajaya would be able to achieve energy sustainability by wiping out corruption, investing in renewable energy projects, diversifying its domestic economies and reducing reliance on hydrocarbon resources.
“Lest Mah forgets the risks of nuclear energy, more than 150,000 evacuees are still unable to return home after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, following the huge earthquake and tsunami.
“Japan is still dealing with contaminated groundwater around the Fukushima nuclear power plants everyday,” Lim said.
He also said it is “irresponsible” of BN to decide to proceed with the proposed two nuclear power plants, when there are serious concerns about safety and the environment.
Lim said BN could not even ensure uninterrupted water supply, which would be a key component to cool and clean nuclear power reactors.
Apart from that, Malaysia still enjoys a high energy reserve margin of over 30%.
“Both the Pakatan Rakyat Penang government and DAP have adopted a firm and uncompromising stand against nuclear reactors due to their unsustainable costs, huge environmental and humanitarian risks.”The Penang state government had written to the then Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Tan Sri Peter Chin on March 21, 2011 to object against the building of any nuclear power plant in Malaysia,” he said, adding that Penang will also ban such facilities………. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/dap-blasts-bns-nuclear-power-plans-calls-it-a-threat-to-health-safety#sthash.UMEY14oX.dpuf
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
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