Toxic waste: Lynas Corporation and the downside of renewable energy
In some cases, renewable energy can have profoundly harmful environmental effects if not managed correctly, writes Noel Wauchope.
AUSTRALIA’S LYNAS CORPORATION is currently under the business and political spotlight. The current controversy over Lynas rare earth elements company is a wake-up call to an area of vulnerability in renewable technologies – the radioactive pollution produced by developing the rare earth elements essential for today’s hi-tech devices. Electric cars, batteries, energy efficient lighting, smartphones, solar panels, wind turbines and so on all need some of the 17 mineral elements classed as rare earth. The mining and processing of this produces radioactive trash.
Environmentalists, in their enthusiasm for renewable energy, seem unaware of this fact, while they rightly condemn coal and nuclear power, for their toxic by-products.
Australia’s Lynas Corporation has two major rare earth facilities — mining at Mount Weld, Western Australia, and processing at Kuantan, Malaysia. For years, there’s been a smouldering controversy going on in Malaysia, over the radioactive wastes produced by the refining facility at Kuantan.
Now, this has come to a head. On 17th April, the Malaysian Government insisted that Lynas Corp must remove more than 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste from the country, for its licence to be renewed in September.