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Kalgoorlie Environment Minister approves $500m Rare Earths Refinery

Kalgoorlie Environment Minister approves $500m Rare Earths Refinery

A drone photograph of a construction site for a rare earths plant.

Kalgoorlie-BoulderMayor John Bowler says the construction of a $500 million rare earths refinery in the city couldbe as significant for the local economy as the discovery of gold.

Lynas is an Australian miner, which produces rare earths to power electric cars and Tomahawk cruise ships. Yesterday, Lynas announced that it has received final approval from Reece Whitby, West Australian Environment Minister.

It was granted by the state government in December 2019, to act as a lead agency, allowing the project to be quickly accelerated.

Lynas has been working on preliminary works at the site for several weeks. It also manages the Mt Weld mining operation near Laverton in WA’s northern Goldfields.

Three of the five sections for a 110-metre-long Kiln have arrived at Kalgoorlie, along with 30 fabricated steel tanks.

The plant is expected to start production next year, and will create approximately 120 jobs.

Bowler stated that he hoped the plant would operate for decades, much like BHP’s Kalgoorlie nickel-smelter, which was officially opened in 1973. It still operates today.

He said, “In a historical context you’re looking to Paddy Hannan (discovering Gold at Kalgoorlie In) 1893; you’re then looking to the discovery of Nickel at Kambalda during the 1960s.”

“They’re talking (operating for decades), and if that happens, you’re likely talking about an expansion to the existing facility.”

A drone photograph of a construction site for a rare earths plant.
A bird’s eye view of the Kalgoorlie rare Earths Plant.(Supplied: Lynas)

Approvals ‘not fast tracked’: EPA

The minister’s approval comes after the Environmental Protection Authority in October recommended that the project should be approved, subject only to certain conditions.

Despite the project receiving lead agency status, EPA chairman Matthew Tongs denied that the environmental approvals were rushed.

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Professor Tonts stated that “The Lynas-Kalgoorlie rare earths processing plant was first referred the EPA September 2020 and was not quickly-tracked.”

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“During the 13 month assessment that followed, there were many opportunities for public comment. Responses to public submissions were published online by the EPA.

“As part the detailed assessment process, proponent made important changes to the original proposal in order to avoid and minimise any environmental impacts. This included the removal of the Yarri Road By-product Storage.”

Lynas chief executive Amanda Lacaze, however, has downplayed concerns from analysts that the project would not be delivered on schedule and within budget due to ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I notice that people still think there is risk for delivery of Kalgoorlie Project,” she said to analysts and the media during the Lynas quarterly results announcement on January 19.

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