Confusion reigns over Lynas’ waste disposal plans

Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
8:01PM Dec 12, 2012

Cabinet today reaffirmed the joint statement made by four of its members on Monday that Lynas Corporation is bound by its one temporary operating licence (TOL) issued to Lynas remove the residue generated by its rare earths refinery out of Malaysia.

NONEHowever, this clearly contradicts what Lynas Corporation executive chairperson Nicholas Curtis told the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

He claimed that there was no such provision but the company would still be voluntarily shipping the residue, in form of safe recycled products, to allay safety fears in Malaysia.

Curtis had spoken just a day after the four ministers, whose portfolios are directly related to the project,  had assured on Monday that the residue or materials derived from the residue would be shipped abroad, as part of the TOL agreement.

The matter was discussed in Cabinet today and the four ministers issued a three-paragraph statement this evening assuring the public that its decision was firm.

“There will be no change in the government’s position to demand Lynas to remove the residue generated by Lynas Advance Material Plant (LAMP) out of Malaysia, consistent with the conditions stated in the TOL.”

History of contradictions

The statement also said that Cabinet will ensure that all related government agencies will closely monitor LAMP’s operations, especially in the handling and the management of the residue generated by LAMP.

The four ministers are International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed, Science and Technology Minister Maximus Johnity Ongkili, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Douglas Unggah Embas and Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai.

However, the four did not address the Wall Street Journal report, which clearly contradicts them.

The TOL is not a public document and it has become increasingly clear that both Putrajaya and Lynas Corporation interprets the document differently.

Thus, the contradictory claims coming from both parties – which is not something new –  is likely to fuel public confusion on the matter further.

Below is a compilation of events which show Putrajaya’s inconsistencies on the matter:

Feb 1 –  Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) approved the TOL with five conditions, mostly detailing the Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) requirement without stating the need to export the waste.

Feb 22 – The four ministers issued a joint statement stating that prior to the issuance of the TOL, Lynas shall submit a letter of undertaking that it will accept the return of any residue generated by its refinery to its original source.

Sept 5 –  After a lengthy delay, the AELB issued the TOL and said that Lynas had made a commitment to export the waste from the refinery, but it did not explicitly state that it is a requirement in the TOL.

Sept 7 – AELB director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan said Lynas’ commitment to ship out the waste is non-binding, according to the TOL.

The very next day, the AELB issued a press release, correcting Raja Abdul Aziz by stating that the management and removal of residue is an integral part of the TOL conditions and agreements, and it is legally binding and the AELB will enforce it.

Dec 7 – Chinese newspaper Guang Ming Dailyquoted Lynas Malaysia managing director Mashal Ahmad as saying during a media briefing that the waste cannot be exported, as stipulated by international law, but the company will convert the waste into ‘synthetic aggregate’, which is non-hazardous and has commercial value, for export.

Dec 10 – Lynas issued a statement denying reports quoting Mashal stating that the waste products will remain in Malaysia.

The company stressed that the recycled product would be exported to other countries in accordance with international and local standards and regulations for use as civil engineering material.

Lynas said that the facility to convert waste into commercial products was operation ready.

Later that day, the four ministers issued a joint statement stating that the TOL granted to Lynas requires, as a specific condition, that the company removes all the residues generated by the refinery out of Malaysia.

In an article published by the Wall Street Journal, Curtis refuted the claim, stating that exporting the waste was not a TOL condition.

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