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Experts soothe fears over Lynas plant

 | May 8, 2012

International experts think the rare earth facility in Gebeng is safe to operate as long as things are done right.

KUALA LUMPUR: An international expert has declared the area surrounding Lynas Corporation’s rare earth plant in Gebeng safer than the area surrounding the street outside a hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Jack Lifton, the founding principal of Technology Metals Research, was among the four panellists at an International Symposium on Rare Earths yesterday.

The symposium was jointly organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the National Professors’ Council Working Group on Rare Earths as part of a public engagement and awareness initiative.

The introduction in the booklet handed out to participants expressed hope that the symposium would give Malaysians a world view of the current rare earths situation and address “the lack of accurate scientific information available to the public on rare earths”.

The symposium was held in the wake of the controversy over the RM2.5-billion Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) which is scheduled to begin operations this year.

Hinting that public fears over the safety of LAMP could be unfounded, Lifton pointed out that Malaysia’s venture into the rare earths industry came at an opportune time as it would benefit from pioneering countries.

He added that his 48 years of industry involvement has given him an insight into how certain situations would pan out and in his opinion, LAMP would yield a positive outcome.

“Malaysia is starting at the right place and is benefiting from the world’s experiences and mistakes, especially that of America and China,” Lifton told the small crowd.

“We need this [rare earth] material so we are going to do all we can to make it as safe as possible. And the truth is that I suspect the area around the Kuantan plant is safer than the area on the street outside. I’ve seen it all and (LAMP) appears to be very clean.”

The team of four experts will be visiting LAMP today and apart from one of them, Alastair Neill, this will be their first visit there.

Neill, the executive vice-president of Dacha Strategic Metals, noted that the last three decades have seen a tremendous improvement in the ability to monitor, measure and understand the implications of rare earth materials.

He said Malaysia therefore had a chance to start off on the right foot instead of backtracking and retro-fitting a previously built facility.

“If you can do it right, get the right people to monitor it and make sure that the equipment is in place, then the plant can operate without a hitch,” he said.

Good access

In responding to a question from the audience as to Lynas’ decision to build the plant in Kuantan instead of Australia, Neill said that only the mining giant had the authority to answer it.

He, however, said that in his opinion, Lynas’ original plan to set up operations in China was scuppered by the country’s sudden imposition of export taxes, which subsequently reduced the plant’s economic viability.

He further speculated that Lynas’ choice of Malaysia was driven purely by economics.

“Here there is good access to the end-user market, good transport and infrastructure as well as port access,” Neill said.

“I have been to the Mount Weld facility [Western Australia] and building the LAMP there would be a nightmare because moving chemicals in and out would be extremely difficult.”

“I could be wrong but building the LAMP here was done for business reasons though [Lynas CEO] Nicholas Curtis would have to confirm that himself.”

Neill’s assessement matched the clarification by Lynas Malaysia’s managing director, Mashal Ahmad, who had previously stressed that Lynas’ decision to leave China was based on the country constant change in operational guidelines.

“Lynas came here because Malaysia is economically sound, has a clear set of guidelnes, good infrastruture and political stability,” Mashal had said during a dialogue session last month.


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