PETALING JAYA: The operating licence for Gebeng-based rare earth producer Lynas Malaysia will be extended for six months beginning Sept 3, although it comes with stricter conditions governing waste handling.
In a statement yesterday, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) said the Cabinet has decided to renew Lynas’ licence, which was originally due to expire on Sept 2, with three main conditions related to the residue.
“These conditions were decided after the Australian government and the Western Australia state government informed Malaysia that it will not be accepting Lynas’ radioactive water leach purification (WLP) residue.
“The conditions were decided based on recommendations made by the Lynas executive review committee in its report in November 2018, ” said AELB.
The first condition is that Lynas will have to move its cracking and leaching process, which is currently conducted in its plant in Gebeng, some 25km from Kuantan town centre, out of the country.
This means that the company will have to put forward a plan to build a cracking and leaching facility overseas, which will start operating within four years from the date the licence was given.
Once the facility starts operating overseas, the licence holder will no longer be allowed to produce radioactive residue of more than one becquerel per gramme in its Gebeng plant.
Secondly, Lynas will have to identify a specific site to construct a permanent disposal facility (PDF) and to obtain written permission from the state government for the use of that site.
Lynas will also have to put forward a comprehensive plan of constructing and financing the PDF.
If the WLP residue is to be shipped overseas, the company also has to produce written official permission from relevant authorities of whichever country it plans to send the WLP residue to.
“The PDF must be constructed quickly to minimise the risk of the accumulated radioactive WLP residue, which now amounts to more than 580, 000 tonnes in the temporary residue storage facility and is exposed to threats of natural disasters such as floods, ” it said.
The third condition stipulated by AELB is that Lynas will have to end all research and development activities related to the use of the WLP residue as a soil conditioner for agriculture use.
The company also has to contribute 0.5% of its annual gross profit, which was allocated for research and development activities, to the Malaysian government until the “cracking and leaching” facility overseas start operating.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had previously said Lynas would be allowed to continue to operate in Malaysia, but it needed to present a plan on how it would deal with its waste.
On Aug 3, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said that the Cabinet had taken into account the issue of public safety and had arrived at a decision which was not the most ideal for her, but was still better than the status quo.
Lynas has been embroiled in controversy since operating its Gebeng plant in 2012 due to the slightly radioactive WLP residue it produced.