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Lynas ready to start rare earths plant after 'safe' ruling
20/06/2012 - Miner Lynas hopes to fire up its rare earths plant in Malaysia soon after a parliamentary panel ruled the project is safe. Eileen Ng
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The panel's decision last week removed the final obstacle faced by Lynas, after the science ministry rejected an appeal by residents to revoke a licence granted to Lynas earlier this year.
Lynas said the findings of the parliamentary panel was "yet another affirmation of the science" behind its 2.5 billion ringgit ($A786.12 million) plant in northern Pahang state and the safety features built into it.
"We look forward to the issuance of the temporary operating licence so we can demonstrate that safety to the Malaysian community," it said in a statement on Tuesday.
Rare earths are 17 minerals used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, weapons, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, mercury-vapor lights, and camera lenses.
China has about a third of the world's rare earth reserves but supplies about 90 per cent of what is consumed. It has placed restrictions on exports, sparking concern among manufacturers from Japan to the US.
Residents living nearby the plant and civic groups have staged protests over fears of health and environmental risks posed by potential leaks of radioactive waste. Lynas has said its plant, the first rare earths refinery outside of China in years, has state-of-the-art pollution control.
Controversy over the project poses a headache to the Malaysian government with general elections expected this year.
After a public hearing, the science ministry said there was no scientific or technical justification to withdraw the licence but instead imposed two new conditions, telling Lynas to submit a plan to immobilise radioactive elements in its waste and an emergency response plan on dust control.
The parliamentary panel, set up by the government in April as another move to allay public concerns, said the Lynas plant was not a nuclear facility and would not cause any major hazards.
The Lynas plant is expected to meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China. It will refine ore from Australia.
Lynas said output for the first phase has been sold out for the next decade.
Malaysia's last rare earths refinery - operated by Japan's Mitsubishi group in northern Perak state - was closed in 1992 following protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukemia among residents. It is one of Asia's largest radioactive waste clean-up sites.
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