LAMP off, for Lynas..

 

ustralian company Lynas Corporation are trying to export a toxic legacy, onto an unwilling community in Kuantan, Malaysia.

On August 4th 2011 Australian company Lynas Corporation Ltd officially opened its Mt Weld rare earth mine in Western Australia. An ASX 100 listed company with it’s headquarters based in Sydney, Australia - Lynas wants to export 33,000 tonnes per annum of rare earth concentrates through the port of Fremantle in Western Australia to the port of Kuantan in Malaysia to their highly controversial rare earth processing plant, the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP).

REE's are- Seventeen elements form the group known as the Rare Earth Elements (REEs), relatively abundant in the earth’s crust they are often not concentrated in mineable deposits, and are almost always found in conjunction with significant radioactive elements like thorium and uranium. Rare earthsare becoming increasingly valuable and are used in electronic equipment like computers, mobile phones and “green” technology including wind turbines and hybrid cars. Other uses include medical devices, and military applications such as missiles, jet engines, and satellites.

Currently the recycling rate for most rare earth metals is around 1% or less despite the environmental risks involved in the mining, milling and processing of these elements.

 

Campaign overview

In 2008 Lynas was given a construction license for its LAMP in Malaysia. The LAMP, situated in a peat swamp area next to the Balok River, is located 2km from a residential area of 30,000 people and some 25km from Kuantan potentially putting 700,000 people directly at risk from any toxic leaks and emissions. It is also located close to fishing communities and coastal resorts. The Balok River drains into the South China Sea, only about 3.5km to the east of the refinery. This part of the sea has also been a long established habitat of the critically endangered leatherback turtles.

There are concerns that the refinery will also threaten the local economic sector including fisheries, tourism and small and medium enterprises. All three sectors are tied closely to the Balok River, inevitably any toxic spills into the river could contaminate fishing grounds affecting food safety and human health, potentially ending the local fishery industry and the tourism trade. Touted to be the largest rare earth refinery in the world, the LAMP will discharge 500 tonnes of waste-water every hour - into the Balok River and into the sea. Waste gas will be discharged into the atmosphere and solid waste – 320,000 tonnes a year enough to fill 126 Olympic size swimming pools – will be dumped into open retention ponds made of a thin plastic base. Every year, at least 106 tonnes of radioactive thorium and a small quantity of uranium will be dumped amongst the tonnes of solid waste waste alongside an unknown cocktail of other hazardous substances.

With 99,000 cubic litres of gas produced per hour released into the air, there are major concerns that any air pollution will inevitably be carried inland from the wind brought in from the South China Sea.

In the monsoon rainy season, the gale force winds can travel a long distance inland potentially spreading the hazards over a large area - thorium dust are very fine and light particles known to be easily carried by wind and water.

One of the most contentious issues with the LAMP is the Thorium (Th) by-product. Exposure to Thorium can cause cancer posing serious risks to workers at the LAMP and surrounding communities. At least 106 tonnes of radioactive thorium and a small quantity of uranium will be dumped every year amongst the solid waste along with an unknown cocktail of other hazardous substances. Exposure to Thorium can cause cancer posing serious risks to workers at the LAMP and surrounding communities. Studies have shown that inhaling thorium dust causes an increased risk of developing lung cancer, and cancer of the pancreas. Bone cancer risk is also increased because thorium may be stored in bone. Thorium has a half life of 14 billion years and is easily transported

and spread through wind and water.

This report prepared on behalf of the NGO Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas (SMSL), Kuantan/Malaysia by the Oeko-Institut (Institute of Applied Ecology) provides a description and critical environmental evaluation of the emissions of water and air, safety issues, and the waste management of the LAMP.

It critically assesses the adequacy of the data, assumptions and predictions found in Lynas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). With detailed attention of the radiological and non radiological environmental consequences of the plant’s operation and its wastes, the report concludes that Lynas fails to provide adequate analysis of the risks and environmental impacts of the operation.

Malaysians have great concerns over the plant, which is understandable in 1992 Japanese company Mitsubishi had a rare earths refinery that was shut down due to major health concerns that were associated with the plant. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside...

The LAMP refinery is seen to be a big step in breaking the strong hold China has on the rare earth market, little is talked about why China has reduced its mining and smelting of rare earths. Until 2010 China had a major monopoly of over 95% of rare earth mining and refining, they have since reduced exports to deal with a wide range of social and environmental issues. They are also trying to crack down on illegal mining and improving safety standards. Currently the USA, Japan and the EU are taking China to the world trade organisation over their reduction of rare earth exports.

The campaign is calling for more stringent research to be done into the refining and management of rare earths production and a reuse approach through urban mining. We understand rare earths are used in modern technologies such as phones, computers, magnets, hybrid vehicles, solar and wind technologies, which are a crucial part of the 21st century.

Take Action

Donate: http://www.givenow.com.au/foelamp

Donate money to help with research, travel and campaign materials 

Please sign the below petition and share through your networks.

Add your voice to the petition for Government at-
http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-australian-company-lynas

For more detailed information about the stop lynas campaign visit  www.stoplynas.org

Join the campaign
Email: stoplynasnow@gmail.com
FB group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/stoplynas/
 

Campaign updates

Lynas AGM Sydney, November 2012. Our press release available here.

Check here for a report on developments in regards to Lynas (Dec 2012).

 
 
Okeo report - Executive summary 
Rare earth refining in Malaysia without coherent waste management concept

The facility for refining Australian ore concentrate rich in rare earth metals of Lynas Corporation in Malaysia has several deficiencies concerning the operational environmental impacts. The environment is affected by acidic substances as well as from dust particles, which are emitted into the air in substantially larger concentrations than would be state-of-the-art in off-gas treatment in Europe. The storage of radioactive and toxic wastes on site does not prevent leachate from leaving the facility and entering ground and groundwater. For the long-term disposal of wastes under acceptable conditions concerning radiation safety a sustainable concept is still missing. These are the results of a study of Oeko-Institute on behalf of the Malaysian NGO SMSL.

In its facility in Kuantan/Malaysia Lynas refines ore concentrate for precious rare earth metals. These strategic metals are applied for example to produce catalysts, Nickel metal hydride batteries, permanent magnets. A number of emerging key- and future-technologies depends from the supply of these rare earths. The ore concentrate to be refined in Malaysia additionally contains toxic and radioactive constituents such as Thorium. The NGO commissioned Oeko-Institute to check whether the processing of the ore leads to hazardous emissions from the plant or will remain as dangerous waste in Malaysia.

Storage of wastes insufficient

The storage of waste that is generated in the refining process shall be stored in designated facilities on the site, separately for three waste categories. According to chemist and nuclear waste expert Gerhard Schmidt, there will be problems with the pre-drying of wastes that is of a high Thorium content. “Especially in the wet and long monsoon season from September to January, this emplacement process doesn’t work”, says Schmidt. “The operator has not demonstrated how this problem can be resolved without increasing the radiation doses for workers”.

Additionally the storages are only isolated with a one-millimeter thick plastic layer and a 30 cm thick clay layer. This is insufficient to reliably enclose the several meters high and wet waste masses. “For the long-term management of these wastes Lynas has urgently to achieve a solution”, claims Gerhard Schmidt, and adds: “in no case those wastes should be marketed or used as construction material, as currently proposed by the operator (Lynas) and the regulator (AELB/MOSTI). According to our calculations this would mean to pose high radioactive doses to the public via direct radiation”.

Mass balance for toxic constituents incomplete

„One of the most serious abnormalities is that in the documents relevant data is missing, which prevents reliably accounting for all toxic materials introduced”, says project manager Gerhard Schmidt. “So it is not stated which and to what amount toxic by-products, besides Thorium, are present in the ore concentrate. Also in the emissions of the facility via wastewater only those constituents are accounted for that are explicitly listed in Malaysian water regulation, but not all emitted substances.” The salt content of the wastewater is as high that it is comparable to seawater. This is discharged without any removal into the river Sungai Balok.

Scientists question the issued licenses

The scientists at Oeko-Institute evaluate the detected deficiencies as very serious. Those deficiencies should have been already detected in the licensing process, when the application documents were being checked. However the operator received a construction license in 2008 and a temporary operating license in 2012.

Especially for the safe long-term disposal of the radioactive wastes a suitable site that meets internationally accepted safety criteria has to be selected urgently. A consensus has to be reached with the affected stakeholders, such as the local public and their representatives. “If it further remains open how to manage those wastes in a long-term sustainable manner, a future legacy associated with unacceptable environmental and health risks is generated”, considers Schmidt. “The liability to prevent those risks and to remove the material is so shifted to future generations, which is not acceptable.”

Strategic role of rare earths

Rare earths are important metals that are used in future technologies such as efficient electro motors, lighting and catalysts. In its study from 2011 "Study on Rare Earths and Their Recycling" Oeko-Institute showed that no relevant recycling of these metals is performed so far. Albeit recent positive developments in this direction: satisfying the prognosticated global requires the extension of the worldwide primary production.

For many years rare earth metals were exclusively mined and refined in the People’s Republic of China. By pointing to their own needs, China finally followed a restrictive export policy. Additionally, the mining and refining of rare earths there is associated with high environmental impacts. To establish additional primary production of rare earths outside China therefore makes sense. However, high environmental standards have, of course, to be met. But this is not the case in one of the first new facilities to be operated outside China, as this study of Oeko-Institute on the Lynas plant demonstrates.

Oeko-Institute’s full report “Description and critical environmental evaluation of the REE refining plant LAMP near Kuantan/Malaysia” to be downloaded here >>

The summary of the report “Description and critical environmental evaluation of the REE refining plant LAMP near Kuantan/Malaysia” to be downloaded here >>

Presentation “Description and critical environmental evaluation of the REE refining plant LAMP near Kuantan/Malaysia” to be downloaded here >>

Contact at Oeko-Institut

Gerhard Schmidt
Researcher in Nuclear & Plant Safety Division
Oeko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology), Darmstadt office
Phone:+49 6151 8191-107
Mobile: +49 175 1834118
Email: g.schmidt@oeko.de