The iPhone, radioactive waste and rare earths: the Lynas case

Lynas Corporation, an Australian based mining company are constructing a rare earth processing plant, known as the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Malaysia. The LAMP will process lanthanide concentrate which will be trucked from the mine site in Mt Weld Western Australia to the Port of Fremantle where it will be shipped to Malaysia. This report provides an assessment of the emissions from the LAMP plant rather than Lynas Corporation‟s activities in Western Australia. The LAMP plant will have significant atmospheric, terrestrial and waterborne emissions of toxic chemicals and radionuclides including uranium, thorium and radon gas.

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A Malaysian high court put on hold until October 4 a temporary operating license granted to Lynas Corp Ltd’s controversial rare earth plant near the eastern city of Kuantan, prompting an 8 percent fall in the Australian firm’s shares on Tuesday (Sept. 24, 2012).  The rare earth plant – the world’s biggest outside China – has been ready to fire up since early May, but the company has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago [regarding the handling of radioactive waste at the plant].

The plant is considered important to breaking China’s grip on the processing of rare earths, which are used in products ranging from smartphones to hybrid cars.

Lynas confirmed the Kuantan High Court’s decision on Tuesday, but said it would not affect production at the plant and that it plans to strongly assert its rights at the next court hearing…Lynas shares plunged more than 8 percent after the court order to A$0.795, their lowest close in almost three weeks as investors closely track each move in the sensitive case. Earlier this month they rose up to 50 percent when Malaysia approved the license.

Activists linked to the environmental group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, want the court to suspend the temporary license until two judicial review cases challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard.  “It’s a small victory, but there is still a long way to go,” Tan Bun Teet, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters after the court decision. “We will fight tooth and nail. We have a lot at stake,” he added.  The group’s previous attempts to legally stop the plant had failed.

Lynas received a temporary operating license for its long-delayed $800 million rare earth plant earlier this month, enabling it to start production as early as October.  The Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued the permit following an earlier recommendation from a government committee.  Protests over possible radioactive residue have drawn thousands of people and the project has become a hot topic ahead of an election that must be held by early next year.

Sources

Lee Bell, Rare Earth and Radioactive Waste: A Preliminary Waste Stream Assessment of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, Gebeng, Malaysia, National Toxics Network. April 2012

Siva Sithraputhran, Malaysian court puts license on hold for Lynas rare earth plant, Reuters, Sept. 25, 2012

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