Malaysia

Lynas waste plans unclear, says Australian mining expert

A file picture of the Lynas plant site March 19, 2011.A file picture of the Lynas plant site March 19, 2011.KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — Despite Lynas Corp’s transparency pledge, an Australian environment and mining expert said the rare earths producer has yet to disclose details of its waste management plan, which has caused alarm to spread over its RM700 million plant in Gebeng.

Dr Gavin Mudd, an environmental engineer specialising in mining, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) more than one waste stream usually comes out of a rare earths plant.

“We need to have a full account of where all the input comes from and where all the waste goes,” said the Monash University lecturer who researched and published a report on “Sustainability of Mining in Australia” in 2007.

The lack of details on this aspect of the refinery is among the key concerns of a local campaign here to halt the plant from firing up in September.

Mudd added that Lynas has been inconsistent on the amount of thorium that will be released from its refinery.

“If the company meets its production target of 22,000 tonnes a year of rare earth oxides [REO], then it will be disposing of around 90,000 tonnes a year of thorium,” the academic said.

“If you are repeatedly exposed to low-levels of thorium every day for 50 years that will add to a significant increase of radiation exposure over a lifetime,” he added, explaining it heightens the risk of cancer.

China, which supplies over 90 per cent of the world’s demands for rare earths, has been reported to have scaled back its output, acknowledging the link between the industry and the spike in cancer cases.

In the same 10-minute video clip titled “Malaysian backlash” uploaded on ABC’s Australian Network earlier today, the Australian miner’s executive chairman Nick Curtis painted his company a “a victim of misinformation”.

“I think local political purposes have sought to join the dots between the dramas in Japan and the fear of local community,” Curtis told ABC.

“Now, our job is to be very transparent to the community and to give them facts, encourage them to deal with the facts, to think about the facts and know that the plant is safe,” he said.

“There is no thorium waste as an industrial product of thorium,” he added, explaining the only radioactive element was in the iron phospo-gypsum as a “residue” of the plant.

Curtis said the residue also exists in the fertiliser industry and stressed it had “very low levels of naturally-occuring radiation material in the form of embedded thorium atoms within that naturally-occuring radiation material”.

The Lynas founder said the company was only producing 33,000 tonnes of concentrate for the first phase and is shipping it to a “location that is advantageous for us” to be further refined.

The video can be watched here (http://australianetwork.com/newsline/)

Lynas appears to be sweating under the heat from the local campaign, mounted by Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh.

The federal government has announced it will form an independent panel, which will include members from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to review the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s home state.

 

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