This Fact Sheet is updated regularly.
The last update was made on 2nd June 2011
1. 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 earths 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 earths raises a number of environmental and safety concerns 2.
because the ore in which rare earths are 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 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:
Smoking a pack of cigarettes daily 0.20 mSv
Medical or dental x-day 0.39 mSv
iii. 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
(Source: United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 1982, 1993, 2000; United Nations Environment Protection Agency; US Department of Energy; Health Physics Society)
The Lynas Project
1. Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd (Lynas) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lynas Corporation 2.
Ltd of Australia . Its business is the production and sale of rare earths 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
1. On 22 January 2008, Lynas was granted a manufacturing licence to produce “rare 2.
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:
Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984
Environmental Quality Act 1974.
1. 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...