01 April 2011

Pahang : A New Chernobyl ?

Rare earth refinery in Kuantan

Not all knows that an Australian company, Lynas is building the world's largest rare earth refinery in Gebeng Industrial area in Kuantan, Malaysia and I bet some of you doesn't know what is "rare earth". Let me make a brief intro to you about the element called rare earth. It is an ground-source element consists of a few chemical elements found in periodic table. It's rare to be found and can only be found at the Earth's crust.

As I stated above, an advanced technological company called Lynas from Australia are responsible for the $230 million rare earth refinery project in Kuantan. Based on my readings, the rare earth material are not deposited directly in Kuantan, but at Mount Weld situated in Australian desert, 2500 miles away from Kuantan. The ore deposited will be transported to nearby port, Fremantle and shipped to Kuantan for refinery processes.

For your information, rare earth materials are having high demands around the world despite of its radioactive effects. This materials will be processed to manufacture cars' body, bombs, and also to produce electronic gadget's casing. This materials also had become more important to technology manufacturing of the high quality possessed by that element.

China is the main producer of rare earth currently with 95% of rare earth materials supply in the world came from that Great's Wall country. The demands of this material expected to exceed 40,000 tonnes a year and if this situation maintains, the refinery in Malaysia will produce about $ 1.7 billion exports, equals to approximately just 1% of Malaysian's economy. This increasing demands had triggered a company to reopens their abandoned rare earth mine in California.

Malaysian Government will be rich if things are going well and the demands increase the exports of this material but the negative effects of this industry are bit disastrous. The ore deposited from the mine are considered to have little amount of radioactive content and those refinery processes of rare earth will produce hundreds or thousands of tonnes of low-level radioactive wastes. Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board stated that reviews were done and indicated that the imported ores and wastes produced are in low radioactive level thus it's manageable and safe. 

Although rare earth material are highly demanded in various industries, not all countries brave enough to operate this refinery. The same refinery plant at Bukit Merah, Perak closed in 1992 after violent demonstrations by citizens nearby protesting its polluting effects. The pollutions caused leukemia and birth defects to the residents as it contains carcinogen. Now, Japanese company, Mitsubishi Corporation which operated the refinery, engaged a $100 Million cleanup at the one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

So,does the decision to open the world's largest rare earth refinery in Kuantan really benefits us as Malaysians or brings more harm than good?      

courtesy of New York Times : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rare.html


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