Lynas Malaysia operates a chemical factory which refines rare earth ores from the Lynas mine in Western Australia.
Rare Earths deposits are generally found alongside naturally occurring radioactive elements. The radioactive material is not enhanced during the separation and refining process. Lynas Malaysia is NOT a nuclear plant and does NOT produce nuclear waste.
Lynas produces 2 forms of gypsum as by-products of its Rare Earth refining activities:
- An iron phosphogypsum known as WLP which contains very low-level naturally occurring radioactivity. It is safely managed under regulations expertly enforced by the Malaysian government through the AELB.
- A magnesium rich gypsum known as NUF which is a nonradioactive material. It is safely managed under regulations expertly enforced by the Malaysian government through the DOE.
Fig 1: Background radiation levels vary by geography. Radioactive material is found throughout nature. Different locations produce different levels of radiation exposure.
Fig 2: Public radiation exposure. Source: 1 ICRP. 2 US Department of Transport, FAA. 3 Cancer Research UK. 4 European Nuclear Society
Fig 3: Industrial processing residues in Malaysia. Industries in Malaysia that use natural resources, like tin mining, mineral processing, oil and gas, and coal powered electricity generation plants, generate by-products, residues and waste materials which have varying levels of radioactivity.
Radiation safety at Lynas Malaysia
The iron phosphogypsum (WLP) is managed and stored in accordance with international best practice and Malaysian regulatory requirements.
The storage of radioactive residues generated at processing plants throughout Malaysia varies depending on the physical and chemical nature of the residues.
The WLP residues at Lynas Malaysia are stored on site in purpose-built, above ground storage facilities. These facilities are designed, built and managed in accordance with the requirements of a Permanent Deposit Facility and international best practice.
Fig 4: No increase in background radiation at 1 km & 20 km from Lynas Malaysia
The production and storage of the WLP has had no negative effect on our surrounding communities.
There has been no increase in background radiation levels in the 6 years that Lynas has operated. Environmental radiation and radioactivity monitoring of water, air, soil and sediments samples at 1 km, 5 km, 10 km and 20 km from the Lynas plant are conducted in accordance with internationally accepted sampling and monitoring methods. 44 monitoring activities over more than 5 years have been carried out by a 3rd party accredited consultant. Similar monitoring programs are conducted by the AELB independently.
Occupational radiation exposure to Lynas Malaysia workers is managed to IAEA standards and is at the low end of regulatory limits.
Fig 5: Occupational radiation exposure. Source: 1 UNSCEAR, IAEA 2 Omar et. al. (2007). 3 Lynas Malaysia 4 IAEA and ICRP
Gypsum at Lynas Malaysia
Gypsum is a by-product of many chemical plants in Malaysia
In Malaysia, gypsum produced as a by-product is defined as a scheduled waste. In countries like Australia this material is NOT categorised as a scheduled waste.
Malaysian Regulation provides for 2 options on management of this material:
- Apply for the special management of the scheduled wastes to facilitate reuse.
- Dispose of the scheduled wastes at prescribed premises.
Other plants which produce gypsum in Malaysia have been licenced as prescribed premises for the disposal of the material.
Gypsum (NUF) produced by Lynas Malaysia is a non-hazardous, non-radioactive and non-toxic material.
The NUF gypsum produced at Lynas Malaysia plant is NOT toxic to humans, animals, vegetation or aquatic life.
Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) tests carried out on NUF (2014 and 2017) confirmed that NUF is not explosive, corrosive, a health hazard, irritant, carcinogenic, ecotoxic or infectious and does not exhibit characteristics of ignitability, reactivity or toxicity.
NUF is non-hazardous according to the Globally Harmonised System of classification and labelling of chemicals. NUF is not classified as a dangerous good by the criteria of international air, road and sea transport (UNTDG, IMDG, IATA).
Gypsum is a useful material
Gypsum is used in a wide variety of applications, including in the construction industry (cement and plasterboard) and in agriculture (slow release fertiliser and soil conditioning).
Independent research by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) demonstrates that Lynas gypsum can be used safely in agriculture.
Lynas Malaysia has submitted all research reports to the DOE and the AELB. Lynas Malaysia has submitted applications for approval for the productive use of the NUF.
Lynas Malaysia has managed NUF in accordance with government regulations.
Lynas Malaysia has been encouraged to identify opportunities to reuse NUF. Lynas Malaysia has invested significant funds, completed R&D and submitted plans for the productive use of the material.
Currently, the NUF is stored in secured facilities on site with the approval and supervision of the regulating bodies.
Lynas Malaysia is able to pursue either of the options for management of the material – reuse or onsite disposal – with sufficient notice. Lynas Malaysia’s preference is reuse in line with international best practice.
“The Radiological risk from the Lynas operation is intrinsically low.” IAEA Expert Review on Lynas