BN reps claim rare earth plant no threat to Kuantan

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — Local Barisan Nasional (BN) assemblymen in the Kuantan area said today that a rare earth refinery now being built there will not be hazardous to the environment or the health of nearby residents.

The MCA duo of Pang Tsu Ming (Semambu) and Chang Hong Seong (Teruntum) said they had been initially concerned about radioactive effects from the plant owned by Australian mining company Lynas Corporation.

However, they changed their minds after attending a briefing arranged by the company during a visit to one of its mines in Mount Weld, Australia at the end of 2009.

The two now say they are convinced that the facility will not be a danger to their constituencies.

According to Pang, they were briefed by scientists — including one from Russia, whom he did not name — on how “even some granite stone has higher radiation” than the rare earth found in Mount Weld.

Rare earth metals, of which China has a 95 per cent control on global supply, are crucial to high technology products such as Apple’s iPhone, the Toyota Prius and Boeing’s smart bombs.

Pang added that he was shown tests that said amang (tailings from tin mining) had higher levels of radiation than the Mount Weld rare earth.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Lynas was beginning work on the plant to produce metals possibly worth over RM5 billion a year in Kuantan. This comes two decades after protests forced Mitsubishi Chemicals to close down a rare earth plant near Ipoh due to environmental damage — damage which it is still trying to clean up today.

Mitsubishi’s Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth plant, which has been blamed for eight cases of leukaemia in the area, was reportedly undergoing a stealthy US$100 million (RM303 million) cleanup exercise despite shutting down in 1992.

However, Chang said that the two cases should not be compared as the radiation from the Mount Weld rare earth was not as hazardous as the metals processed in Bukit Merah.

Pang said he was told the Mount Weld ore would require direct exposure of “days, if not months” before any ill effects to one’s health.

He added that “we would not pursue economic development at the expense of the environment and people’s health.”

In its report, the New York Times also quoted Raja Datuk Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, the director-general of the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board, as saying the project was only approved after an inter-agency review.