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World's Largest Rare Earth Metal Refinery to Open in Malaysia

China holds a global monopoly of rare earth metal, vital to smart phones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and many other components of the modern world. During a territorial dispute in 2010 with Japan it cut its exports causing a market bubble in which prices increased by as much as 30 times; and whilst prices did drop last year they still remain far higher than previous levels.

Malaysia could help break Chinas hold on the industry by opening the world’s largest refinery, which is being built by the Australian company Lynas, will have the capacity to supply a fifth of the world’s demand, and should help drive prices lower.

Construction of the refinery has continued despite demonstrations over radiation worries, regulatory challenges and the withdrawal of major suppliers worried over safety; and finally all is nearly ready. They are just now waiting for permission to start operations from the Malaysian government.

Raja Dato Abdul Aziz bin Raja Adnan, the director general of the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board, said that on Monday they had discussed whether or not to grant an initial license of up to two years. His personal opinion is that the license should be issued, but that the radiation levels at the refinery and also the levels of its waste should be carefully monitored, and if the readings are unacceptable the board will “still have the right to stop them (the refinery) and suspend and terminate” the license.

Whilst the board has not published any decision, there is little indication that they will deny the license as the project is a cornerstone of Malaysia’s economic development plan.

Most critics of the project are fearful over radiation leaks, citing that China has contaminated thousands of acres over the last couple of decades due to radioactive leaks. Nick Curtis the chairman of Lynas, has promised that whilst they are using proven Chinese technology, they are also paying special attention to improving its safety and environmental performance. “We simply took Chinese processes, scaled them up and cleaned them up,” he said in a speech in Hong Kong in November.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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