Don’t greenwash rare earth elements mining as “sustainable”


28TH March,2023

Since the report was made by the United States Geological Survey in 2012/2013 that Malaysian soil has 30,000 to 43,000 tonnes of Rare Earth Elements (REE) reserves, mining companies and investors have been drooling to exploit our resources.

REE is high in demand at the moment, ironically to feed into the green tech industries. REE are used extensively to manufacture batteries to store solar energy amongst other uses in the electronic sector.

Thus far there have already been three announcements by project proponents and State Government citing upcoming REE mining projects. Namely the Lanthanide mining at Ulu Jelai forest reserve Kuala Lipis Pahang (660 ha), REE mining in Kenering Ulu Perak (2,161 ha) and recently Menteri Besar Kedah Incorporated (MBI Kedah) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Jangka Bakat Minerals Sdn Bhd and China’s Xiamen Tungsten Co Ltd to commence mining of rare earth elements in Kedah.

PSM is very concerned that this push by project proponents and investors to exploit our natural resources for profits has compelled our government agencies to greenwash REE mining as Non-Radioactive Rare Earth (NR REE). Akademi Sains Malaysia (ASM) under the purview of Kementerian Sains, Teknologi dan Inovasi recently had a stakeholder meeting to get views on their Business Model for NR-REE Industry proposal. (

The very intention of the Akademi Sains Malaysia to term the proposal as ‘business model’ raises a red flag implying the government is resolute to exploit REE resources irrespective of the social and environmental implications. PSM is made to understand that ASM was commissioned by Kementerian Tanah dan Sumber Asli (Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry) NRECC to do a 6-month study to develop a business model given that this is a new industry in Malaysia. The study was expected to be completed and submitted to NRECC soon.

The proponents of the REE mining in Malaysia have proposed In Situ Leaching (ISL) method, using technology from China to extract REE from the ground. In Situ leaching method requires chemicals such as ammonium sulfate to be pumped into the ground through injection wells (PVC pipes) bored through the ground. The chemical dissolves the mineral deposit under the ground and the dissolved chemical solution with REE is pumped out through production well back to the surface for further processing.

Besides the fear that ISL might also leach out other minerals that could prove to be radioactive, ISL method itself poses great threat to the environment. The method does not provide any safeguards on the movement of the leaching solutions in the ground. Excursions of the chemical beyond the mining area are bound to happen contaminating groundwater. Ground water plays an important role in the natural hydrological cycle. Contamination of groundwater will eventually affect our potable water supply when ground water is discharged back into streams and rivers.

Precipitation of mineral leached out will also clog up aquifers and further increase the rate of excursions of leaching solution, making it more difficult to restore the soil post mining.

Contamination of groundwater and river basins will cause buildup of contaminants (heavy metals) downstream that will eventually jeopardize water supply to residential and agricultural areas in the vicinity.

The consumption of water and food crops contaminated with metals is a major food chain route for human exposure. Investigations on the Yellow River water, China found that it was contaminated from the mining activities of the infamous Bayan Obo mine (the largest REE mine in the world). Data indicated that long-term irrigation with water from the polluted Yellow River caused metal accumulation in farmland soil and spring wheat.

Health risks of metals in contaminated farmland soils and spring wheat irrigated with Yellow River water in Baotou, China – Wantong Si 1, Jumei Liu, Lu Cai, Haiming Jiang, Chunli Zheng, Xiaoying He, Jianying Wang, Xuefeng Zhang

Besides the Yellow River contamination, the tailing pond was found to have stored nearly 70,000 tons of radioactive thorium. This was disastrous because the tailing pond lacked proper lining and resulted in its contents to seep into groundwater!

Thus the Akademi Sains Malaysia’s attempt to greenwash REE mining as non-radioactive supposedly to imply that it is ‘sustainable’ and ‘safe’ is very misleading and irresponsible. There are many other environmental problems that arise from In Situ Leaching REE mining. Most of the above mentioned projects in Malaysia are furthermore are located in forest reserves and Environmentally Sensitive Areas. Akademi Sains Malaysia, as the name suggests, should put scientific data and facts as the basis of their study and not business concerns. We fear that their fervor to make REE mining a successful business has clouded their scientific evaluation on the serious environmental impacts of the mining.

PSM thus cautions YB Chang Li Khang the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister and YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad the Natural Resources Environment and Climate Change Minister to study the overall implication if Malaysia chooses to exploit REE for economic reasons. Short-term profits for the mining companies will result in long term cleanup costs after mining has been completed. The cleanup cost will fall on the governments and taxpayers shoulders.

With water becoming an expensive commodity in the future, any attempt to contaminate it will cause serious repercussions for the rakyat.

Don’t greenwash REE Mining! Don’t jeopardize our future!

Sivarajan A
Secretary General
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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