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Rare earths minerals worth RM100b found in Penang; chief minister says seeking advice on what to do next

Publish date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 03:44 PM

GEORGE TOWN, Nov 30 — Penang has been found to have rare earth elements (REEs) estimated to be worth RM100 billion, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow told the state legislative assembly here today.

He said the discovery was based on sampling studies conducted by the Minerals and Geoscience Department (JMG) in locations such as Teluk Bahang and Balik Pulau on the island as well as around Nibong Tebal on the mainland.

“The State Secretary's Office is currently discussing with JMG for further advice on this,” he said in his winding-up speech.

REEs are much sought after minerals used as components in everyday high technology products like smart phones, computers, and electric cars.

At the same time, the mining and refining process surrounding REEs continues to draw controversy due to the potential hazards.

The Bukit Merah, Perak radioactive pollution back in the 1980s saw dozens of residents living nearby a REEs factory run by Japanese giant Mitsubishi Chemicals, develop cancer and give birth to children with physical deformities has often been cited by critics against future rare earths developments in Malaysia, including ongoing resistance against the continued operation of the Lynas refinery in Gebeng, Pahang.

Chow said Kedah, Pahang, Perak, Terengganu, Kelantan and Johor have been reported to have REEs, and noted that the minerals hold great potential as a state income generator.

He noted too that the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry recently approved a REEs pilot project in Kenering, in the Perak district of Gerik.

“The project had gone through several pre-implementation processes, including conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment,” he said.

He said both the federal and state governments have also prepared various guidelines and conditions for the project.

The National Land Council and Mineral Council have also held discussions and there was an agreement for guidelines to be implemented on the production of REE minerals, he added.

“However, the ministry did not distribute these guidelines to the other states and it is possible that it is still being fine-tuned with other conditions that will be included,” he said.

He said the Standard Operating Procedure provided an overall explanation on the mining activities and procedures that must be followed to ensure compliance with relevant laws and safety requirements.

“These procedures are established to maintain the sustainability of the mining industry, the safety and well-being of the population, and the protection of the environment,” he said.

Chow said the state government has the Penang Mineral Enactment 2001 that came into force in 2006 to provide safeguards on potentially hazardous mining and production of minerals.

But he added that a Penang Minerals Regulations will need to be established to implement the enactment.

The regulations will be needed, among others, to determine fees, rents and royalties, as well as the method of collection, to determine offences that can be compounded, to specify the content of any feasibility study, to determine the powers and duties of officers under the enactment, to determine unauthorised activities in any mineral reserve and to make provisions for other matters in enforcing provisions of the enactment.

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