Workers processing rare earths at the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in Gebeng, Kuantan. FILE PIC

KUDOS to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for allowing Lynas to continue operating in Kuantan, Pahang. It is the right decision because rare earths processing is a good investment.

As a nation bent on taking advantage of the growing demand for technologically-advanced products, it is in our interest to have access to rare earths.

Critics are concerned about the safety of the waste from rare earths.

However, local and foreign experts do not see the waste from rare earths processing as health threatening.

Equating such waste to nuclear-type waste is irresponsible. They are miles apart.

If not, why is China, a major producer of rare earths for the world, not much bothered by the operation of many rare earths plants there?

In fact, some have suggested that rare earths may soon replace oil as the most strategic material globally. This strategic nature became even clearer in the trade conflict between the United States and China.

It was reported that China may resort to using its rare earths supply to the US as a bargaining chip in negotiations. This has rattled the US.

Even Lynas was approached to be an alternative supplier. There is also talk of the US starting its own rare earths facility.

Instead of squabbling over a non issue, we should be strategising how to mine our own rare earths deposits.

I have been told by geologist colleagues that we do have deposits of heavy rare earths.

Talking to people in the rare earths business, it seems in some high temperature applications, the preference is for heavy rare earths.

They are also priced higher than the light rare earths that Lynas produces.

Let’s face it. We need to venture into new economic areas to help the nation grow at a healthy pace. Our petroleum resources cannot last forever.

By 2050, we will have 10 billion people.

The depletion of natural resources motivates many economies to look at waste as a possible new source.

The waste from Lynas contains phosphates, which we import for plantations. Why not use them and save on import costs?

Oil palm plantations in Pahang mined for bauxite can use the phosphate-rich Lynas waste to rehabilitate soil fertility.

PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM

Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, UCSI University

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