Appears not to be as rare as previously thought. Time for a name change.
Malaysia protests rare earth processing plant
Despite promising “Zero harm and sustainable development” and winning a court case permitting it to build a rare earth processing plant, Australian rare earth miner and processor Lynas Corp has failed to win favor from Malaysians who fear its investment will saddle the country with toxic waste. Lynas’ base is West Australia, …
Friday 9th November 2012 17:51 GMT Anonymous Coward
It's purely historic. Earth elements got their name from chemists who found it extremely hard to extract the metals from their oxides. The rare earths had similar chemistry but were thought to be rare at a time when chemists were largely confined to looking at what came out of European mines. The majority of the then-known rare earths were extracted from gadolinite which was known only in a single mine in Ytterby not far from Stockholm.
Gadolinite was originally thought to be a tungsten ore but the great Swedish chemist Johan Gadolin discovered it was something else. He was a bit worried he was going to turn chemistry upside down 'It is not without great trepidation I dare speak of a new earth because they are right now becoming far too numerous for it seem to me rather fatal if each of the new earths should only be found in one site or one mineral.' Gadolin discovered four new elements in gadolinite (named after him) - erbium, terbium, ytterbium and yttrium, all named after the town itself. Later, the same ore also revealed holmium (named after Stockholm) and thulium (from Thule), whilst euxenite again from the same mine, was the original source of tantalum/
Remember me if you win on 'Pointless'.
Friday 9th November 2012 07:59 GMT Whyfore
Miseducation, misguidance and hearsay
These are the three things that have lead us in Malaysia to this state of affairs. They are not bandied around our 'Kopitiams' over a glass of 'teh tarik', but fed to the masses through all forms of media outlets.
When arguments were flaring up earlier in the year over the Lynas plant, it was never long before the subject of Fukushima was brought in for comparison despite the obvious differences in the two operations. I think I must have seen dozens of articles in newspapers too with all manner of folk chipping in their two cents on the matter, but the only remember one person commenting who was actually qualified to discuss the matter in depth (a former nuclear physics lecturer) and he didn't seem too bothered. Apparently, the waste by-product from the Lynas operation emits a type of alpha radiation that cannot even penetrate human skin and would have to be consumed to be harmful.
Paris icon, because she probably has an opinion on the subject too so we'd all better listen...
Friday 9th November 2012 09:36 GMT albaleo
Friday 9th November 2012 14:30 GMT Tim Worstal
Friday 9th November 2012 15:55 GMT Whyfore
Re: Miseducation, misguidance and hearsay
"The first thing that crossed my mind was that if the processing plant is so wonderful, why is the company not building it in Australia?"
I've had another look for articles on this and some writers suggest an alleged 12 year tax break for building the plant here while others suggest that corners have been cut building the facility to make money disappear. The project does seem a bit shady and a lot of the construction went ahead before the facility was even announced. The people protesting should probably be angry for these reasons before the worries of Fukushima-style meltdowns and two headed fish
Tuesday 13th November 2012 13:07 GMT Tom 13
Friday 9th November 2012 09:37 GMT Caytie
Friday 9th November 2012 12:12 GMT Anonymous Coward
Re: Miseducation, misguidance and hearsay
Oh there's an overarching term for all those three, propaganda.
Between UMNO's apparent stranglehold on the English language press in M'sia (seriously, look at even a supposedly serious paper like the NST, it reads more and more like the Star every week. Malayisan Star, not the UK one, I doubt they'll have Polly from Pahang topless any time soon.) you can't actually get anything close to decent local news in Malaysia. The closest I can find is generally the Straits Times from Singapore and that's not exactly an unbiased source.
There's lots of commentary in the papers about the Lynas plant indeed and I am pretty sure no more than half of the authors could name you three elements from the periodic table.
I'll stop there before I get off on one of my rants. Suffice it to say that Malaysia might be the home of my people, but I'm damn glad I don't live there.
However Anonymous because I want to go back next year for a holiday and some proper durians. And char hor fun.
Damn right char hor fun.
Friday 9th November 2012 09:44 GMT James Micallef
“millions of tonnes of toxic radioactive waste left behind”.
how radioactive is 'radioactive'? Is it 'as much radiation as in a watch with luminousdial' levels (see yesterday's el Reg article re Sellafield)? And, for that matter, how toxic is 'toxic'?
This is a technical site, we're not afraid of numbers, and we can ake up our own minds!
Friday 9th November 2012 09:52 GMT The Axe
As Tim Worstall says, the only reason rare earths (and no they aren't rare, just hard to extract) are expensive is China has a monopoly on it. This because of the messy nature of the processing required which the H&S and environment laws of western countries prohibit. So well done for Lynas for helping make the next gen iApple product (and many others such as wind turbines) a bit cheaper.
Friday 9th November 2012 12:26 GMT Norm DePlume
Friday 9th November 2012 17:53 GMT chris lively
I was hoping for actual thoughtful content on this one. Little things like defining exactly what the oppositions claim is compared to output from existing plants. However, that wasn't the case.
Now I'm left with the feeling that technology has surpassed the level of education of the locals to the point that they are protesting "black magic".
Perhaps the company should begin a reeducation campaign.
Saturday 10th November 2012 08:56 GMT MachDiamond
Environmental laws and cheap labor
I am sure that lots of protesting will stop if local people get jobs. The company is probably developing the site outside of AU due to environmental permit processes and labor costs that would be much higher in WA. You have to pay people good money to live in the middle of nowhere and they are going to bolt after a while anyway.
Thorium is a rare-eath metal and is probably the source of radiation as it is commonly found with the other rare-earths. Thorium has a very long half life and is not particularly toxic (a longer half life correlates to lower radiation). A previous poster is correct that breathing it in as dust or consuming it with supper is not a good idea. If LFTR reactors get developed outside of China, it will make sense to separate out and sell the thorium. At that point, it's not being stockpiled or winding up dumped in a waste pile somewhere.
China isn't restricting it's rare-earths as much as changing what it sells from raw material to finished product or higher margin components. With labor as cheap as it is in China, adding labor to raw materials leads to significantly better returns. There are many products that this has happened to. China used to sell silicon metal, then discontinued that and sold solar PV cells to manufactures in other countries and now restricts that to sell finished solar panels. This method of moving up market has the benefit of destroying the capability to perform the processes in other countries as it put firms out of business.