Saturday, June 11, 2011

Malaysiakini - Rare earth from Malawi for Gebeng Lynas plant?

Joseph Sipalan
Jun 11, 11

The on-going controversy surrounding the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (Lamp) may well escalate, depending on what the Australian mining giant intends to do with ore from its recently-acquired Kangankunde Carbonatite Complex (KGK) in Malawi.

A source, who said he was once part of Lynas Malaysia's senior management team, said there has been no plans so far by the company to build a facility similar to Lamp elsewhere, raising suspicions that Gebeng may very well process raw material from two sources.

As it is, Lamp, which is located in the Gebeng industrial park in Pahang, will process raw material sourced from Mount Weld in Western Australia - considered to have the lowest level of thorium compared with similar mines across the globe.

azlanIn a March 7, 2011, company report posted on its website, Lynas announced the successful acquisition of the Malawi mine for US$4 million (RM12 million), and expects to complete preliminary work within one year.

The concern is that since Mount Weld is considered to have the least radioactive ore, it is likely that the KGK mine would naturally have a higher thorium level, the source said on condition of anonymity.

He said if Lynas eventually decided to bring in ore from KGK for processing at Gebeng, the current study being carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would not be an accurate indication of radiation exposure at the plant.

When contacted for comments, Lynas said it so far has started two studies at the Malawi mine, one to “verify the ore body” and the other to establish a social and environmental baseline.

Since it acquired the mine only less than three months ago, the company said, it was “too early to make any statement on this”.

'Lower thorium level' in Malawi mine

However, Lynas indicated in an earlier company report posted on its website, dated Sept 6, 2007, that preliminary studies showed the KGK mine has a much lower thorium level compared with ore deposits found in Mount Weld.

azlan“Lynas' Mt Weld Rare Earths mine, currently under development, is considered to have low natural radiation levels and has an average of 44ppm thorium oxide per percentage of REO content.

“The KGK deposit has extremely low thorium oxide levels for a rare earths resource as the KGK samples have an average of 11ppm thorium oxide per percentage of REO content,” the report says.

In the same report, Lynas projected that once operational, the KGK mine would be capable of producing a minimum of 5,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides (REO) annually.

The RM700 million Lamp project has sparked sustained protests from Malaysians, particularly local residents, who are outraged over the potential radiation poisoning they could face once the plant is up and operational.

The situation forced the government to moot an international panel, eventually formed by the IAEA, to study the plant's safety aspects.

The panel is expected to complete its study and submit its report to the government by the end of this month.

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