KUALA LUMPUR — November 26, 2019: The Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources today maintains that it has yet to allow a rare-earth miner from China to start operations in Perak, despite earlier statements pointing to this possibility.
The ministry’s corporate communication unit describes the memorandum of understanding signed on November 16 between Chinalco GXNF Rare Earth Development Co. Ltd. and the Perak government as just a gentlemen’s agreement.
The Mole yesterday reported that the ministry had given the greenlight for the mining of rare-earth minerals in Perak after 40 years of hiatus after a similar operation in Bukit Merah was believed to have caused radioactive poisoning to residents in a nearby village.
According to a ministry officer, the rare-earth exploration works mentioned in a statement pertaining to the MoU does not necessarily mean the company will be permitted to mine, adding that it could also mean just mappings for the minerals.
However, the statement also points out that the ministry is not only supportive of such a mining activity but is also preparing a comprehensive framework on operations and procedural standards to ensure the sustainability of Malaysia’s rare-earth mining industry.
The MoU was signed against the backdrop of minister Dr. Xavier Jayakumar’s remark on July 18, in which he said that Malaysia was committed to realising the potential of the country’s minerals, including rare-earth deposits.
Jayakumar said so in Parliament following the discovery of rare-earth deposits in Sarawak, Kelantan, Kedah, Perak and Johor that were estimated to be worth up to RM100 billion.
Rare-earth is a hot button issue in Malaysia as the the incident in Bukit Merah Bukit was believed to have caused scores of residents to suffer from leukemia and birth defects.
The mining there which started in 1979 was a joint-venture between Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemicals and 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 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 approval to continue operating.
While the ministry and the Perak government have yet to state where any new mining 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.