pic by BERNAMA
LYNAS Malaysia Sdn Bhd’s rare earths plant licence can be revoked if the company fails to complete the construction of a permanent disposal facility (PDF) by March next year, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said.
The condition is part of terms set out by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration when it agreed to renew Lynas’ licence for another three years, effective March 3, 2020. The renewal is also subjected to Lynas making sure it has a cracking and leaching plant outside Malaysia in operation within four years.
Currently, Lynas’ water leach purification stockpile is stored at a temporary storage facility, which is at risk of being exposed to major floods.
Khairy Jamaluddin told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that Lynas’ licence was renewed after it satisfied strict checks by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board.
He said the PDF was presented as an option to Lynas after attempts by former Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin (PH-Bakri) to get the firm to ship its radioactive wastes back to Australia had failed. The wastes amounted to half a million tonnes.
Lynas has been processing rare earths mined from Mount Weld, Australia, in Malaysia since 2012. In response, Yeo asked the minister to assert if the terms set out by PH to deal with Lynas’ wastes were more rigid than what was initially proposed by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government before the 2018 election.
Khairy Jamaluddin did not give a direct response, but said BN had looked at various ways to manage the waste via research and development including soil conditioners and road-based products.
It was last reported in July last year that Lynas had paid RM206 million security deposit to finance the PDF project, where it would dispose of its wastes referred to as water leach purification residue, a by-product of their refinery operation.
Lynas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the PDF’s current status.
Lynas is the only significant producer of rare earths outside China, which have military applications and are used in computers, smartphones and electric vehicles.
The Australian-listed company said its processing facility in Gebeng, Pahang, could meet up to 20% of global demand for rare earth minerals.
PH’s decision to renew Lynas’ operating licence last year triggered a backlash from the public.
Local residents have publicly protested against the company for over a decade. Many said they fear a repeat of the Asia Rare Earth Sdn Bhd disaster in Perak where cases of birth defects and leukaemia were reported.