PETALING JAYA: The Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Kuantan, will be allowed to continue operating provided it removes and disposes its processing by-products from the country, particularly the controversial water leach purification residue.
The Environment, Science, Technology and Climate Change Ministry, which announced the decision, said the government will allow Lynas to renew its future licence and permission if the company complies with two pre-conditions for the management of its wastes.
“The ministry is concerned with the increasing risk arising from the continued accumulation of residue without a viable solution to manage the accumulation in the near term,” it said.
It said Lynas must remove the accumulated 451,564 metric tonnes of “water leach purification residue” (WLP), which contains radioactive materials, from Malaysia.
Secondly, Lynas must submit an action plan on the disposal of its non-radioactive “neutralisation underflow residue” (NUF) scheduled waste totalling 1.113 million metric tonnes.
The ministry said the action plan must be submitted before it will be considered for future applications under the Environmental Quality Regulations (Scheduled Waste) 2005.
Lynas’ current permission to store the NUF onsite is valid until Feb 15 next year.
The full operating stage licence for the Australian rare earth miner, which started operating amid protests in 2012, will expire next September.
“The ministry is confident that this decision will ensure the well-being of the community and the environment,” it said.
The executive committee report on the operations of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant recommended that an independent research and development committee be set up to coordinate, evaluate, manage and monitor further research to ensure it is free from any conflict of interest on the part of Lynas.
On public engagement, the committee recommended that Lynas arrange a more effective communication strategy to tackle the issue of conflict regarding risks.
It said the executive committee found that a high technology industry that uses naturally occurring radioactive material can grow rapidly in the future.
“Thus, the committee suggests the government look into the industry’s growth holistically to create a suitable ecosystem that meets the latest international standards,” it said.
Lynas opponents welcomed the ministry’s directive.
Kuantan PKR MP Fuziah Salleh is relieved that Lynas must remove its “hazardous waste” from Malaysia.
“A responsible corporation would have ensured a realistic and safe disposal mechanism of its waste before commencing its operations,” she said in a statement yesterday.
Fuziah, who is Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said Lynas had persistently refused to acknowledge that its waste was hazardous.
Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas chairman Tan Bun Teet is relieved that the WLP waste will no longer be part of the recycling effort.
“We were initially worried that the radioactive material will be dispersed all over the country if the WLP is mixed with the NUF residue to be recycled,” he said.
Exco report shows Lynas complied with regulations