Last Updated 09 Jul 2021

The Lynas Fact Sheet

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Despite their name, rare earth elements are relatively plentiful in the earth's crust but are more difficult to mine and extract than many other metals because of their chemical properties and geographical dispersion, making them relatively more expensive to extract. Rare earth metals are used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products including catalytic converters, wind turbines, hybrid car batteries, disk drives, mobile phones, and flat-screen displays.

Worldwide demand for rare earth is increasing rapidly and is expected to outstrip supply in the future. China currently produces about 97% of the world's supply. Rare Earths & Radioactivity 1. The extraction of rare earth raises a number of environmental and safety concerns because the ore in which rare earth is found are often associated with minerals containing radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. Health and safety issues that need to be addressed include radiation protection for workers, the public, and the environment, the transportation of raw materials, and the management of waste. Human beings are exposed to very small levels of radioactivity in everyday life. Thorium, for example, is naturally present in the soil, rocks, ground and surface water, plants, and animals in very low concentrations. Ingestion of food and water containing this level of radioactivity does not pose any threat to human health. The radiation exposure limit set by AELB for the public is 1 mSv/year. The annual radiation exposure, in millisieverts (mSv)/year, in a number of daily human activities is as follows:

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  • Smoking a pack of cigarettes daily 0. 0 mSv
  • Medical or dental x-day 0. 39 mSv
  • Sleeping next to someone for 8 hours 0. 02 mSv
  • Watching television 2 hours daily 0. 01 mSv
  • Using a computer terminal 0. 001 mSv

The Lynas Project

Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd (Lynas) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lynas Corporation Ltd of Australia. Its business is the production and sale of rare earth and related byproducts.

Lynas plans to import rare earth ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia,truck it to the port of Fremantle, send it by container ship to Kuantan and process it at the Gebeng Industrial Estate in Pahang. At Gebeng, the Lynas plant will extract Rare Earths from the ore for export. Lynas says waste from the extraction process will be used to produce commercially applicable products or stored in safe and secure containers. Lynas says it chose to locate its plant at the Gebeng site because of: i. Its proximity to Kuantan port.

The availability of gas, water, and chemical supplies iii. The availability of skilled workers Manufacturing License. On 22 January 2008, Lynas was granted a manufacturing license to produce “rare earth oxides and carbonates” at Gebeng Industrial Estate, Kuantan. The approval was granted subject to a number of conditions, in particular, the need to comply with the provisions of the: i. Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984 ii. Environmental Quality Act 1974. Compliance Requirements. The Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984 is administered by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB).

Among other things, the AELB monitors and assesses the radiological impact of the Lynas project through all stages of construction and operation. This includes matters relating to radiation protection (occupational, public and environmental), safety, waste management, transportation, decommissioning, and remediation. The Department of Environment (DOE) is the implementing agency for the Environmental Quality Act 1974. The Act governs issues related to the prevention, abatement and control of pollution and enhancement of the environment (other than radioactive material and radioactive waste).

The safety standards and good practice requirements enforced by the two regulatory bodies are similar to or equivalent to those recognised internationally. Compliance status 1. Lynas began planning and construction of its plant at Gebeng Industrial Estate, 2. Pahang soon after obtaining its manufacturing license. In April 2011, the company announced that construction had reached the 40% stage and was on target for completion by September 2011. The AELB confirms that Lynas has complied with all health and safety standards required of the company to date.

A site license and a construction license have been issued accordingly. The next stage in the multi-tiered approval process requires Lynas to apply to the AELB for a pre-operating license. To date, the company has not made a submission to the AELB for this purpose. Upon receiving a pre-operating license, the company will then be required to apply for and obtain an operating license before it can commence full operations. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report on the project was approved by the Department of Environment on 15 February 2008.

The Department confirms that Lynas has complied with all requirements of the EIA approval to date. The Radiological Impact Assessment (RIA) conducted by the Nuklear Malaysia affirms that operation of the proposed Lynas plant would not pose any radiological risk to workers and members of the public living in the areas surrounding the site beyond what is allowed by the regulatory authorities. Nuklear Malaysia also affirms that the projected radiation exposure levels in the Lynas plant for workers (average of 2 mSv/yr) and members of the public (0. 02 mSv/yr) are within the limits set by AELB. The decision to appoint an Independent Panel of International Experts 1. On 22 April 2011, however, following widespread public concern about the safety of 2. the project, the Government announced a decision to appoint an independent panel of international experts to review all health and safety aspects of the project.

Pending completion of this review, the Government also decided that: i. No pre-operating license will be issued to Lynas by AELB. ii. There will be no importation of raw materials for the plant from Australia. ii. A review will be undertaken to ensure that the construction of the facility at the site fully complies with national and international safety standards. Independent Panel of International Experts 1. In late April 2011, the Government approached the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, for assistance to appoint an expert team to i. Review Lynas' compliance with relevant International Safety Standards and Good Practices, and ii. Provide an independent expert opinion on safety issues, in particular, those relating to radiation safety.

The scope of the review included: i. Radiation protection (workplace, public, environment) ii. Safety assessment iii. Waste Management iv. Transportation v. Decommissioning and environmental remediation On 13 May 2011, the Government announced details of the IAEA-appointed panel. The panel consists of a leader and nine members: four from the IAEA, and five from IAEA member countries. All panel members are recognized experts in their respective disciplines and have knowledge of IAEA standards, in particular, those relating to rare earth processing.

Details of individual members of the panel The expert panel began the on-site component of its work on 29 May 2011. During its six-day visit, the panel has scheduled to meet with government officials and representatives of Lynas, and receive representations from members of the public, including residents, community associations, non-governmental organizations, and professional bodies. The panel is scheduled to complete its work and submit its report to the Government by 30 June 2011. The Government has announced that the report will be made public.

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