Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Will Kuantan plant refine uranium-bearing ore?

Fuziah asked if Lynas was hiding further details regarding its Gebeng refinery.A Malawian minister said Lynas’s Malaysian plant may be a destination for the uranium-bearing ore.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh is asking Putrajaya and Lynas Corp to reveal if the Australian miner will refine uranium-bearing rare earth ore mined from Malawi at the controversial RM700 million plant in Pahang’s Gebeng industrial area.

Lynas Corp is building the plant ostensibly to refine ore from Mount Weld in Western Australia, saying it is cheaper to process in Malaysia rather than in its home country.

“All this while, I thought they were only processing Mount Weld ore. And now this, [ore] from Malawi, which contains uranium.

“Is Lynas lying? What other things are Lynas hiding?” she said to The Malaysian Insider today.

The PKR vice-president said she recently found out the Sydney-based company had won a deal to mine rare earths from the south African nation, which has been reported to contain the more radioactive material, uranium, used to produce nuclear energy.

In its company report dated September 6, 2007, Lynas Corp announced it had bought the Kangankunde Carbonatite Complex (KGK) deposit in Malawi for US$4 million (RM12 million), where it hopes to produce at least 5,000 tonnes of rare earths a year.

“Importantly, the deposit has extremely low thorium and uranium levels for a rare earths deposit,” it highlighted in the same report.

In the same report, Lynas highlighted that the KGK deposit has extremely low thorium oxide levels for a rare earths resource as the KGK samples have an average of 11 parts per million (ppm) thorium oxide per percentage of rare earths oxide (REO) content.

In comparison, ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia has an average of 44ppm thorium oxide per percentage of REO content.

It added that the KGK deposit has been subjected to extensive geological and process test work completed between 1987 and 1990 by the French geoscience organisation, Bureau de Récherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM).

“It is anticipated the concentrate may be further processed to separate rare earth oxides at the Lynas processing facility to be built on the east coast of Malaysia,” the company report stated.

More recently, global news agency Reuters reported the Malawi government giving Lynas and several uranium miners, such as Paladin Energy and Resource Star, exclusive contracts for the precious minerals.

In a report dated March 29, Reuters cited Grain Malunga, Malawi’s minister of natural resources, saying: “Rare earth minerals are also associated with radioactive minerals like uranium, so what is happening is that we have companies that are looking for uranium, but they are also looking for rare earths”.

Malunga was also reported to have said Lynas was the only company with a rare earths mining licence so far and the elements would largely be for exports.

“We don’t have the technologies for doing the value addition... they will do the processing, especially the concentration of the rare earth minerals, and they are going to export to Malaysia or China where further concentration is done,” the agency quoted Malunga as saying.

Fuziah sounded the alarm over the latest disclosure and questioned what the authorities were doing now to ensure the health, safety and environmental impact would be safeguarded.

The federal government has so far said the Lynas project is on hold pending the set up of an independent review panel, which it promised to announce this week.

Anti-Lynas campaigners want a say in selecting the panel while the Pahang Bar has asked for a year-long review of the project, saying public health and safety is paramount.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pledged that public health and safety is more important than the project in his home state.

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