Australian news, and some related international items

Electric cars, and the hazards of rare earths used in them

The electric-car revolution is here, but is that a good thing for the environment? ABC ,  By environment reporter Nick Kilvert for Life Matters 8 Dec18 “……..Rare earth metals like neodymium are often used in the batteries and magnets of electric cars, but there’s a catch, according to geologist Carl Spandler from JCU.

“There’s an association with rare earth ores with uranium and thorium, and they’re radioactive,” Associate Professor Spandler said.

Rare earth deposits are often found alongside uranium and thorium, meaning when you mine one, you get both.

In 2011, Mitsubishi spent $100 million on a quiet clean-up of a rare earth plant run by subsidiary company Mitsubishi Chemical near the villages of Ipoh and Papan in Malaysia.

From the time the plant opened in 1982, locals complained of eye-watering smoke and foul odour, and as time went on, villagers say they saw increased birth defects and leukemia.

Mitsubishi eventually removed more than 11,000 truckloads of radioactive material from the site, contaminated with thorium.

Despite the name, rare earths actually aren’t very rare at all, and there are significant deposits in Australia.

Australian company Lynas mines rare earths at its Mount Weld site in south-eastern Western Australia.

But the ore is shipped to Malaysia for processing where locals, whose limited experience with the rare-earth metals industry hasn’t been good, are in staunch opposition.

This week, Malaysia set new conditions on the Lynas plant, including that they must remove all radioactive by-products produced at the refinery, from Malaysia.

Some mining in China also has a poor environmental and social track record, according to Dr Spandler.

“They had small-scale operators just strip mining, but they’ve cut down on that quite a bit now because it was really doing a lot of damage to the environment.”

But despite the risks, radioactivity in rare earths is probably not such a big issue for Australian mines like Lynas, according to Dr Spandler.

“The mining companies are very well aware of [the radioactivity issues]. They’re obviously under strict regulations that they’ve got to control the radioactivity of their waste material and have a proper plan in place for how they deal with that waste,” he said.

“All of the [Australian] projects that are in the pipeline or up and coming now, they have fairly low levels of uranium and thorium, so they’re fairly manageable.”……

December 10, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, rare earths

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