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Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Nov 30, 2012
Australian miner Lynas Corp said Friday it had begun processing rare earths at a controversial new plant in Malaysia after being delayed for more than a year due to public opposition over health fears.
Lynas earlier this month cleared a final hurdle when a court gave the go-ahead for the company to fire up the $800 million plant in the eastern state of Pahang despite residents' and activists' fears over radioactive waste.
"This is a significant milestone for Lynas," the Sydney-listed company's chairman Nicholas Curtis said in a statement on the plant's start-up.
He said the long-delayed start of operations would now "provide real data that will assure people that the LAMP (Lynas Advanced Materials Plant) is entirely safe for our local communities and the environment."
The refinery is set to become one of few sites outside China to process rare earths -- metals used in high-tech equipment ranging from missiles to mobile phones that have become increasingly important to the world economy.
Lynas and the Malaysian government have touted the facility as an important high-tech foreign investment project that will benefit the local economy and provide jobs.
But it has been dogged by criticism from environmentalists and residents, opposition that has galvanized a nascent "green" movement in Malaysia and seen anti-Lynas protests by thousands of people.
Legal moves to block the plant have repeatedly postponed its start-up.
Following Lynas's court victory, opponents this month staged a 13-day, 300-kilometre (186-mile) march from Kuantan to the capital Kuala Lumpur to rally opposition.
Media reports said the march had swelled to several thousand by the time it reached the capital.
Lynas, however, insists the plant is safe and that any radioactive waste would be low-level and not harmful.
A photo posted Friday on Lynas Malaysia's official Facebook page showed an electronic screen at the plant's entrance displaying information on air and water quality.
China currently supplies about 95 percent of the world's rare earths. Lynas hopes the Malaysian plant, which will process material from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia, will help break Chinese dominance of the market.
Lynas has said that by early 2013 the plant will be able to supply 22,000 tons of rare earth concentrates per year.
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