Malaysia rare earth plant on track for October operation
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Malaysia rare earth plant on track for October operation

As environmentalists, political opposition plan further action, Australian company gets on with it, reports Asia Sentinel

The Lynas Corporation rare earths processing plant in Malaysia expects to start processing ore in October, according to an email from the Sydney headquarters of the Australia-based company.

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Activists hold placards during a demonstration against Australian miner Lynas in front of Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pic: AP.

“We look forward to the safe commencement of operations at the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant,” the spokesman said.

Barring additional legal action to stop it, and depending on how quickly the plant, in an industrial estate in Gebing near the Pahang state city of Kuantan can gear up to full production, the decision last week to grant the license is expected to make Malaysia a major force in the production of rare earths, minerals used in a long list of high-tech products. Almost all of the ore being produced globally today is exported from China, which has sharply curtailed its production since 2010 because of devastating environmental problems. Chinese 2012 industrial production growth is averaging only 10.5 percent, well below the average growth rate of 14.7 percent annually over the past 10 years. The country exported 3,046 tonnes of rare earth ores, metals and compounds in the first four months of 2012, down 43 percent year-on-year, according to the Lynas quarterly report. However, slackening global industrial activity has kept prices down.

The United States stopped rare earths production two decades ago, although the skyrocketing prices of the minerals has led to plans to reopen mines on the California-Nevada border.

More than 1,300 employees have been working at the Gebing plant, according to Lynas’s second-quarter financial report, without being able to process any ore. Environmentalists, in league with the Pakatan Rakyat political opposition, have vowed to blockade the ships that bring the ore some 4,000 km from Australia’s west coast for processing at the sprawling plant.

The plant has been bitterly opposed by environmentalists and has become a political cause célèbre for the opposition coalition, with rallies all over the country. Approval had been pending for more than a year while it was shuffled from government department to department. Lynas received a temporary operating license on Feb. 1, only to have it appealed, then appealed a second time.

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