Before I begin, I have a few questions regarding rare earth.
What exactly are rarely earth elements?
As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.-wikipedia.org
Yttrium can produce phosphors that produce light in LED displays and compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Neodymium magnets turn wind turbines. Cerium helps reduce tailpipe emissions.
Cellphone circuit, tablet computers, video games, laptop batteries, flatscreen TVs, and virtually every electronics you have in your home contain rare earth elements.
Since they are used so extensively, why are they called rare earths?
They are termed rare earth because of they are typically dispersed, and not a lot are found in concentrated and economically exploitable form. In fact rare earth minerals actually refers to those very rare economically exploitable deposits.
Now, let's get back to the Lynas issue.
Given all the benefits of rare earth, why are the people of Kuantan unhappy about Lynas? The plant in Kuantan is actually a rare earth refinery, which, upon completion, would become the largest rare earth refinery in the world. Another best in the world for Malaysia, why not?
But the entire project has a drawback.
Though Lynas will mine the ore in Australia, the radioactive material will be shipped to Kuantan, and that, my friend, is the major concern for the people of Kuantan. Rare earths occur naturally with the radioactive elements thorium and uranium, which, if not stored securely, can leach into groundwater or escape into the air as dust. The refining process requires huge amounts of harsh acids, which also have to be disposed of safely.
The thing is, we have had a rare earth refinery in the past. Unknown to many people, Mitsubishi Chemical's rare earth refinery built in Bukit Merah was
closed in 1992 after years of sometimes violent demonstrations by citizens. Local residents blamed the refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases within five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years with no leukemia cases.-nytimes.com
"It's safe--it's built by an international team of builders and engineers"--International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 30th June 2011.
No it's not when there's leakage--the risk is especially high when you're dealing with something dubbed "the largest radioactive material refinery on earth". Weather, mismanagement or human error could easily turn a profitable business into a life-threatening investment. The Fukushima nuclear crisis, for example, was caused by an earthquake. Unpredictable. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year was caused by human error. Similarly unpredictable (though maybe avoidable). And the Chernobyl disaster, which was caused by human error as well as design features. Again, unpredictable.
For me personally the entire project embodies a deeply resented scheme derived by rapacious politicians, and seriously I should actually re-quote myself : the refinery improves our politicians' GDP, not the country's.
So the question remains: do we need Lynas? If an accident happens, are we ready to face the consequences?
The people of Germany recently campaigned against the government's action of accepting nuclear waste from France. The people tried to stop the train carrying nuclear waste from France by laying flat on the railway.