Malaysian opposition takes aim at $200 mln rare earth plant

January 31, 2012

Malaysia’s political opposition has vowed to scrap a controversial USD200 million rare-earths processing plant being built by Australia’s Lynas Corp if it wins national elections expected to be called within months, Reuters reported yesterday.

The plant, in Malaysia’s east, aims to weaken China’s monopoly on the global supply of the metals, which are used in a range of products from flat screens to iPhones and energy-efficient light bulbs. It is also backed by Japanese investors keen to see the development of alternative supplies.

The opposition is backing some residents and green groups which have voiced fears over radioactivity from thorium waste from the plant, though Lynas says this will be extracted and kept in a facility that meets world standards for safe storage.

Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board confirmed it was discussing the Lynas case, but its director general, Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, told Reuters it was not clear when a decision would be announced, but government officials said the final decision would likely be made by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet next week.

Japan is counting on Lynas to supply 8,500 tonnes a year of rare earths by early 2013 to curb its reliance on China, under a deal involving trading house Sojitz Corp and state-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp.

The Japanese came to Lynas’s rescue in 2010 with $325 million in funding after the Australian government balked at approving a Chinese bid for a majority stake in the company.