Govt tells Lynas to prepare waste disposal plan

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by BLOOMBERG

THE federal government is expecting a waste disposal plan from Lynas Corp Ltd before allowing the company to build a permanent disposal facility (PDF) in the country.

This is an alternative to sending its rare-earth processing waste back to Australia.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Lynas, which is a major producer of rare earth apart from China, will be allowed to construct a local disposal facility to treat residue from its processing plant in Kuantan, instead of removing its waste stockpile.

The Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry (MESTECC) had earlier made this a precondition before it would renew the company’s licence, which expires on Sept 2.

“Yes, we are giving this condition to Lynas that they should have a plan on dealing with the waste.

“We are waiting for them to tell us how they will do that, whether they will find a place where they could deposit the waste or not,” Dr Mahathir told reporters attending a roundtable dialogue with the International Chamber of Commerce in Putrajaya yesterday.

It was previously reported by Singapore’s The Straits Times (ST) that Malaysia will likely withdraw a demand for Lynas to export half a million tonnes of radioactive waste as a condition for renewing its licence, and instead direct it to build a PDF at the Australian miner’s cost.

The report, citing a source, said Lynas was required to pay a RM206 million security deposit to finance the project, while approval was dependent on the firm finding a suitable location and obtaining the necessary permits.

Lynas had previously insisted it was not feasible to export 450,000 tonnes of water leach purification residue, a by-product of its refinery operations, by September and offered to build the PDF as a compromise.

The firm agreed to build the facility last year, following the recommendation from the executive review committee appointed by MESTECC.

However, Minister Yeo Bee Yin insisted that Lynas must export its waste back to Australia as a prerequisite for Lynas’ licence renewal.

In response, Australian authorities rejected the possibility of accepting Lynas’ waste in the country. Lynas has been processing rare earth in Malaysia mined from Mount Weld in Australia since 2012.

Bentong MP Wong Tack in a statement issued on July 31 said the government must not permit Lynas to store its rare-earth processing waste in the country.

He said the move would expose Malaysia to a potential repeat of the Asia Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) disaster in Perak. Clean-up operations on ARE’s radioactive wastes are still ongoing over 20 years after the factory’s closure in 1994.

Citing the government’s strong stand against plastic waste in the country, Wong Tack said the same stance should be taken against Lynas.

“If importers of contaminated plastic wastes are labelled as traitors to the country, what would the people think of political leaders who allow this country to be the dumpsite for the huge amount of Lynas’ toxic radioactive waste?” he said in a statement.

On a separate note, Dr Mahathir denied claims that the plan to acquire four highway concessionaires from Gamuda Bhd has been put on hold pending a review of the RM6.2 billion takeover price.

“No…no such thing (acquisition being on hold). The Cabinet was told by the Finance Ministry (MoF) about the takeover plan and we have not said no, but the date of implementation is going to be decided by the Cabinet,” he said.

His comment came following a news report by ST, which quoted government sources as saying that the takeover has been put on hold due to internal disagreement over the MoF-led proposal.

To this, Dr Mahathir said: “Well, the Finance Ministry seems to be convinced it can be done. Our problem is that we don’t have the money.

“The Finance Ministry said by charging during peak hours, they can raise enough funds to pay for the acquisitions of these highways. We’ll have to see whether or not it will be enough.”