The Malaysian Insider – Australia: No request from Lynas to accept waste

By Lisa J. Ariffin
March 21, 2012

Curtis previously said Australia had not expressly forbidden the import of radioactive residue from Lynas’s Gebeng refinery. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Canberra has yet to receive any request from Lynas Corp to accept radioactive waste from the Australian miner’s controversial rare earth plant in Gebeng, Kuantan that will be ready this June. 

“Australia has not received any request to import residues from the plant,” an Australian High Commission spokesman told The Malaysian Insider when contacted today.

“A request of this kind would be addressed in accordance with relevant Customs and environmental laws,” he added.

On Monday, Lynas had denied reports that the Western Australian government had refused to accept the radioactive waste from the miner’s RM2.5 billion rare earth plant in Malaysia.

The Australian mining firm, currently under tremendous pressure to prove its refinery would pose no danger to Malaysians, had told local media personnel during a dinner that the Australian government was merely reacting according to common conditions that any country would have with regards to such materials.

“We would expect Lynas and the Malaysian government to handle residues in accordance with relevant Malaysian regulations and the terms of the operating licence,” the spokesman said.

When contacted today, several anti-Lynas groups remained sceptical towards Lynas’s announcement.

“If the (Australian) government accepts waste, why not they (Lynas) stay in own country?” Himpunan Hijau chairman Wong Tack asked.

Wong said Lynas Corp was “clearly taking advantage” of Malaysia’s “loose environmental laws” and “non-functioning administration”.

“The temporary operating license (TOL) can be issued without scientific facts, and now they (the government) [are] talking about setting up a (parliamentary select) committee. The administration is totally not functioning,” he said.

“The contradictory statements from various government departments and ministers… (show) how the whole procedure is being abused.

“Do not belittle us Malaysians,” he added.

Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia chairman Tan Bun Teet echoed his comrade’s sentiments, saying Australia “won’t be stupid enough to accept waste that will increase toxicity in their country”.

“For the past 50 years, toxic wastes that were kept in (Australia) will be very much less than what Lynas will produce in a year,” he said.

“I don’t believe the Australian government will accept it (the waste from the Lynas plant),” he added.

Tan then labelled Lynas chief executive Nick Curtis’ statement as “part of their (Lynas’) works to convince the government” that their rare earth refinery was safe to operate in Malaysia.

“We are concerned about how they are going to manage the waste, that’s the point.

“He has not answered this question. If Australia is prepared to take it back, then just say they are willing to take it back,” he said, referring to Curtis.

Earlier yesterday, the Dewan Rakyat approved the formation of a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to engage all stakeholders within next three months over the controversial multibillion ringgit project that is expected to fire up its operations by year-end.

The dinner on Monday, organised by the International Trade and Industry Ministry, is believed to be part of Putrajaya’s attempt to explain the Lynas issue to critics of the plant, who resolutely insist that its residues would pose harmful levels of radiation to local folk.

But despite Curtis’ claim that the Australian government had not rejected Lynas’s waste material, the CEO could not offer a guarantee that the company would return the residues back to its home country.

Grilled for over two hours during the dinner by media members who appeared unconvinced by Curtis’ repeated assurances regarding Lynas, the CEO could only offer his company’s pledge to adhere to the conditions attached to the two-year temporary operating licence (TOL) from Malaysia’s energy regulator, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB).

Among the most significant condition that Curtis highlighted was Lynas’s signed undertaking that it would submit a detailed plan for a permanent disposal facility (PDF) for waste, within 10 months of receiving the TOL.

But Curtis said that setting up the waste facility at such an early stage was an “unusual” practice as, in most cases, the rehabilitation of a site would only be carried out at the tail end of the refinery’s lifespan.

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