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Lynas, the company building the controversial rare earth facility in Kuantan, has claimed that their rare earth from Mt Weld is from lathanide ore, which is naturally low in thorium.

On the other hand a research paper by the Australian Parliament has claimed otherwise.

This information leaves the concerned citizens of Kuantan very worried of the situation that’s pending should AELB decide to issue Lynas a  license to operate. Thus I urge the authorities especially AELB to look into this matter with greater detail. Also for the authorities to consult other experts to provide input on this matter.  

From the  research paper by the Parliament of Australia several points can be drawn:    

1) The levels of naturally occurring thorium from the Lynas Mount Weld mine in Australia is not considered low, as claimed by Lynas. According to the Parliament of Australia research paper no. 11 2007-08, the main source of thorium in Australia is the mineral monazite which is a reddish-brown rare-earth phosphate mineral and that contains 8–10 percent thorium.

Based on Lynas target capacity of 22,000 tons per year of rare earth, the thorium residue in Gebeng is a whopping 1,760 tons to 2,200 tons, and this will be the amount of radioactive waste/residue generated by Lynas in Gebeng.    

2) The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency OECD/NEA and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have compiled estimates of thorium resources on a country-by-country basis.

And, Australia is world ranking number 1 in thorium resources. There are technical issues yet to be resolved before a thorium-based fuel cycle can become common. The Australian government concluded in the research paper that, even if the technical issues can be resolved there are still residual environmental concern in the mining, handling and storage of radioactive materials.    

3) Therefore, 1,760 tons to 2,200 tons of thorium generated by Lynas in Gebeng every year will become radioactive waste/residue to be dumped here in Kuantan by the Australian company. And, Lynas claims that it will place funds with the Malaysian government to ensure safe management of radioactive waste/residue is illegal and against the laws of Malaysia under Act 304, Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984.

Reference: Parliament of Australia Research paper

Fuziah Salleh is MP for Kuantan and PKR vice president.