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Asean Affairs  9  March 2011

Malaysia tries rare earth-again

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     9 March 2011

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A story receiving international attention is the building of a rare earth refinery in Kuantan , Malaysia, with the Australian mining giant Lynas.

In its effort to propel Malaysia economically forward the Malaysian government is traveling down a road it has traveled before. A previous plant operated by Mitsubishi Chemical left tons of radioactive waste that is now being cleaned up at a cost US$100 million.

The waste that is left after rare earths are refined is largely thorium and it is described as low-level.

However, some medical personnel in Malaysia who have treated victims of the low-level radiation traced to the previous refinery suggest the term “low-level” is merely an attempt at coining an acceptable phrase. They point out low-level waste can still cause various cancers, including leukemia.

As the new refinery would generate $1.7 billion a year in exports that would be a tremendous boost to the Malaysian economy as the country implements its New Economic Model. Does the reward justify the risk?

That is a question that will be frequently asked in Malaysia particularly after the refinery starts operation in late 2012.

One hope that Malaysia has learned from its previous rare earth venture and that knowledge will be incorporated into the operational plans of the new Lynas refinery.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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