By Shannon Teoh
March 23, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — The Western Australian government, where Lynas Corp’s rare earths mine is located, has said it will not accept waste from the firm’s controversial refinery in Kuantan even if it is not radioactive.
Putrajaya said early this month Lynas, which plans to transport ore from Mount Weld in the Australian state, to its RM2.3 billion plant in Gebeng, had promised to send its residue abroad if it could not find a suitable waste disposal site in Malaysia.
File photo of a signboard at the site of the Lynas plant in Gebeng.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai had also said late last month the Sydney-based firm must find a way to ship the waste back to Australia, failing which no temporary operating licence (TOL) will be issued.
But Western Australia Minister for Mines and Petroleum Norman Moore told the state’s legislative council that it would not allow the residue, which Lynas says it can treat to reduce its radioactivity, to be returned to its source.
“Yes, as Commonwealth legislation prohibits the importation by Australia of any waste product produced from offshore processing of any mineral resources purchased here,” he said in a written response to Mining and Pastoral Region member Robin Chapple obtained by The Malaysian Insider
Chapple, who is Greens spokesman for mines and petroleum, nuclear issues and waste management, had asked on Tuesday if waste from the Gebeng plant would be accepted if it was not radioactive after being treated.
Local nuclear regulators had said on March 1 Australia’s refusal to accept radioactive waste should not affect Lynas’ efforts to return residue from its rare earths plant to the source.
Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan said this was because the waste from the Gebeng refinery would not be radioactive once it was treated by Lynas.
The Australian miner has assured Malaysia that it will be able to reduce the concentration of radioactivity in the waste products so that the residue could be transformed into commercially viable aggregates, he noted.
AELB approved Lynas’ TOL in January, subject to several conditions, despite continued protests from local residents, environmentalists and the federal opposition.
The Australian firm is planning to ship rare earths ore from its mine in Mount Weld to its Kuantan plant, where it will be processed into highly sought after rare earths metals.
Thousands of anti-Lynas protestors attended an opposition-backed rally by Himpunan Hijau last month in the largest protest yet against the rare earths plant that is expected to fire up later this year.
Critics of the refinery want Putrajaya to direct the nation’s nuclear regulator to reverse its decision to approve Lynas’ TOL, which will let the Australian miner embark on a two-year trial run.
They allege that Lynas has not given enough assurances on how it will handle the low-level radioactive waste that will be produced at the refinery.
The government has been under pressure from groups to shut down the rare earths project over safety fears, but Putrajaya has stood its ground on the project that was first earmarked for Terengganu.
Parliament earlier this week approved the formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the controversial rare earths refinery.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) subsequently announced a boycott of the panel, saying it has no power to decide the fate of the RM2.3 billion project.