Rare Earths and Us

On February 27, 2012, in Uncategorized, by jonathanfun

As published in The Malaysian Insider on the 25.02.2011. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/rare-earths-and-us-jonathan-fun/

While I do not support Lynas, and support fully the cause for a greener environment as well as sustainable, responsible management of any industrial waste that could harm us and the environment, not just radioactive wastes, I do not support the political hijacking of this issue and spinning of facts to breed hatred and negative sentiment among the people. I aim to implore everyone to focus on this issue holistically and objectively, without being influenced by political rhetorics.

Contrary to some false allegations on the comments section on TMI, I am a resident of Kuantan, and my house is just located some 30km from Lynas.

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Before anyone of you proceed to the Perhimpunan Hijau this coming Sunday (26.2.2012), I would like to share with you some solid, hard facts about Rare Earth metals:

1. Smartphones, like your iPhones and Androids, will not be able to vibrate without a small, powerful Rare Earth magnet made of Neodymium (Element 60).

2. The heart of a wind turbine is a permanent magnet that’s made from Neodymium (Element 60) that helps generate electricity from mechanical energy propelled by the turbines.

3. Each Toyota Prius contains 5 pounds of Lanthanum (Element 57) and 2.2 pounds of Neodynium (Element 60). Refer to the image below for more information. (Image courtesy of SAE Off-Highway Engineering Online)

Rare earths used in Toyota Prius

Rare earths used in Toyota Prius

4. Speakers used to be made with huge iron magnets. Substitute a Neodymium (Element 60) rare earth magnet, and you get ear bud headphones and smartphone speakers.

5. Compact energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, rely on a coating of rare earth metal Terbium (Element 65) to create a bright white glow.

6. Military relies heavily on rare earths on their equipment. A coating of Yttrium (Element 65), which can withstand huge amounts of heat, is found inside jet exhaust systems.

7. Samarium (Element 62), which is resistant to radiation that would come from a nuclear or magnetic field attacks, is key to magnets in missiles and other weapons used by military forces around the world.

8. You could watch television in color without Rare Earth elements, but it will be dull like those dim, barely colored images from the 1950′s. In the 1960′s, Europium (Element 63) was added to television screens, bringing brilliant reds. Terbium (Element 65), produced bright green hues.

9. Cerium (Element 58) is the most abundant rare earth metal. It is used in catalytic converters and other pollution control equipment. It’s also added to diesel fuel to help it burn more efficiently. Which means you will find Rare Earth metals in almost all vehicles on the road today.

10. Dysprosium (Element 66) is used in lasers, fuel injectors, compact discs, and increasingly in hybrid vehicles.

11. Europium (Element 63) is also a part of the chemical process to screen for Down’s syndrome in a patient.

12. Erbium (Element 68) is used to produce photographic filters, sunglasses, jewelry, and fiber optical amplifiers.

13. Holmium (Element 67) has the greatest magnetic strength of any element, and is used in medical/dental and nuclear control rods.

Before you reject rare earths, please understand that we are one way or another a beneficiary of these metals. Rare earth elements are neither rare, nor earth. The name dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the elements were first isolated out of actually rare minerals found from the soil. Lanthanum (Element 57), first discovered in 1893, is a fine example of this. There’s more lanthanum on this planet than silver or lead and it’s the second most abundant rare earth element, but there weren’t a lot applications back then.

So totally rejecting Rare Earths (like holding a placard saying “Anti-Rare Earth”) will be completely hypocritical on oneself, unless one proclaims that he/she doesn’t benefit from any of the 13 points I’ve stated above, by which if it is the case, I humbly apologize for stereotyping.

Go to the gathering this Sunday with a clear conscience that you are promoting and demanding responsible, safe handling of radioactive wastes by Lynas, not to reject them. Because if radioactivity by rare earths is truly the main reason why one rejects this plant, I am very sorry to inform that we are, at this very present moment, already exposed to plenty of them through the devices that we use in our daily lives.

And I hope those who are attending will not dispose their used plastic bottles and polystyrene packaging all over the place. There’s plenty of garbage bins around the field.

Have a great green weekend.


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