Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Akzonobel withdraws from Lynas Malaysia


The New York Times today gave coverage to the controversial RM2.5 billion Lynas project in Malaysia. Until this report came out,
Malaysians were in the dark that a crucial contractor, AkzoNobel has pulled out, according to engineers working for the Australian miner at the Gebeng industrial site as well as internal company emails. The Dutch chemicals multinational had a contract to supply important resins.

The NYT report wrote that “resins are supposed to glue together dozens of fiberglass liners for concrete-walled tanks up to the size of double-decker buses. Hundreds of tons of rare earths with low levels of radioactive contamination will be mixed in the lined tanks with
extremely corrosive acids at more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The corrosiveness of acids increases steeply at high temperatures, which makes acids ideal for dissolving ore but difficult to handle.

AkzoNobel has long specialized in making some of the most esoteric resins for the mining industry. It uses a secret chemical formula to
help the resins hold together fiberglass even under challenging combinations of heat and corrosiveness. The company had previously
announced that it would supply chemicals for the Lynas project only if it were certain that it would be safe”.

AkzoNobel withdrew from supplying the chemicals after it was told that the fiberglass liners would be installed in concrete-walled tanks that have a problem with rising dampness in the floors and cracks in the walls. The company had been in discussions about the problem of rising dampness, but only became aware of the cracks this autumn, according to the engineers and the memos. To their credit, the engineers said they felt a professional duty to voice their safety concerns, but insisted on anonymity to avoid the risk of becoming industry outcasts.

In fact, In a report last June, the NYT had said that there were critical flaws in the design of the refinery, including the installation of the watertight fibreglass liners.

Lynas executive chairperson, Nicholas Curtis (left) confirmed that AkzoNobel had pulled out of the project but he insisted that it was not for safety reasons. He however, declined to elaborate but said that Lynas had found a new supplier for the resins, which he declined to identify.

The Malaysian Insider on the same day also mentioned that Lynas is pressing the Malaysian contractor Cradotex, to proceed with the
installation of watertight fibreglass liners designed for the containment tanks without fixing the moisture problem and with limited fixes to the walls.

“These issues have the potential to cause the plant’s critical failure in operation,” Peter Wan, the general manager of Cradotex, said in a June 20, 2011 memo (Webpagehttp://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/key-contractor-pulled-out-of-lynas-plant-due-to-safety-concerns-says-nyt/<http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/key-contractor-pulled-out-of-lynas-plant-due-to-safety-concerns-says-nyt/>, published February 01, 2012).

He added: “More critically, the toxic, corrosive and radioactive nature of the materials being leached in these tanks, should they leak, will most definitely create a contamination issue.”

This latest news will surely spark greater worry and concern. If this project is not stopped by the government – then I am sorry to say they are showing great irresponsibility! Of course, I forget this is Malaysia, where the government will sing the all-too-familiar refrain, “Semuanya ok”!

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