PETALING JAYA: A writer on rare earth elements has advised science and not politics to be the foundation for debates on rare earth mining.
Azizan Abu Samah, chairman of the Sustainable Mining Task Force of Akademi Sains Malaysia, said rare earth mining could be carried out with minimal effect on the ecosystem and while maintaining protection.
He said that the mining process most likely to be used in Malaysia will mimic the methods of some Chinese companies that mine rare earth elements with comparable ion absorption.
He said there was also overblown concern of radioactivity and harmful by-products. He said, “I think people are politicising it and making it a big issue, but the radioactivity level is lower than what you get from tin mining.”
Azizan said that only in selected areas could rare earth mining be undertaken.
“If mining is carried out in the watersheds of the Pedu and Muda dams, you will build up sediments that will reduce the dams’ storage capacity and longevity.”
He said the Ulu Muda region provides 70 percent of Perlis’s raw water needs, and 96 percent of Kedah’s, while the Sungai Muda, which is directly linked to the catchment area, meets 80 percent of Penang’s raw water needs.
“Any disturbance could be extremely damaging to the supply of water to these areas,” he added.
When we have cowboy-ish mining as we had in Selinsing with gold, that’s when we’re going to have a lot of issues. There should be no free-for-all.
Rare earth mining hit the headlines recently after Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor reported an arrangement to mine rare earth resources in the state with a Kuala Lumpur-based firm. He said such deposits had a capacity of RM62 billion.
However, Minister Shamsul Anuar Nasarah of Energy and Natural Resources said rare earth mining will not be allowed in forest reserves or without technological permission.
There are many commercial applications of rare earth metals, from having applied to magnets used in electric generators to interactive screens for smartphones and TVs.
China currently has around 90% of the industry, but if Malaysia is able to mine our own, we might one day rule up to 50% of the world market,” said Azizan.” China does not want us to crack their monopoly, however he said. He said that only established companies should be granted rare earth mine licenses, with greater regulation to ensure minimum environmental damage and human impact.”