Business

Rare-earth mining to resume in Perak after 40 years

Protest against Asian Rare Earth plant at the Japanese Embassy in KL.

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

KUALA LUMPUR — November 25, 2019: The government has approved rare-earth mining in Perak, 40 years after what was believed to be a case of radioactive poisoning by the same activity in the state.

The announcement of the approval was made by the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources on November 16.

According to a statement, the mining will be done by the Perak government and China company Chinalco GXNF Rare Earth Development Co. Ltd.

“The agreement between the Menteri Besar Incorporated (Perak) and Chinalco is a positive step in uplifting our mining industry. We believe this partnership will make other state governments realise the existence of valuable minerals in their states.

“The ministry supports sustainable mining and is preparing a comprehensive framework, especially on operations and procedural standards to ensure that the country’s rare-earth mining industry to be sustainable,” said the statement.

The ministry also reiterated its July 18 remark where it intended to pull out all the stops to realise the potential of Malaysia’s minerals.

Rare-earth is a hot button issue in Malaysia, as the first time the country exploited the minerals from its feedstock in Bukit Merah, Perak, it was believed to have poisoned scores of residents at a nearby village, who suffered from leukemia and birth defects.

The mining at Bukit Merah which started in 1979 was a joint-venture between Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemicals and a Malaysian government-linked-company, Asia Rare Earth Sdn. Bhd. The mining stopped in 1992.

The Bukit Merah incident was the main reason given by activists, including Pakatan Harapan politicians, as to why they objected to the operations of rare-earth refiner Lynas Corporation Ltd. in Gebeng, Pahang, under which raw material was mined in Australia instead of Malaysia.

All eyes were on Lynas since the Pakatan Harapan coalition won Malaysia’s national poll last year due to policy disputes over the company’s waste management. It was only last August that the government gave the company a conditional green-light to continue its operation.

While the ministry and the Perak government have yet to disclose where the new mining in Perak will be carried out, a report by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 2012 pointed out that the rare-earth mined in Bukit Merah was 44 times more radioactive than that being processed by Lynas.

(AELB is Atomic Energy Licensing Board; AELA is Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984; MITI is Ministry of International Trade and Industry; DOE is the Department of Environment)

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Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.