Lynas allowed to import radioactive lanthanide concentrate until March 2026

KUALA LUMPUR: Lynas Malaysia will be allowed to import lanthanide concentrate, which is a naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), until its license expires in March 2026, says Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang.

The Australian rare earth materials producer will also be allowed to carry out cracking and leeching activities under the condition that radioactive levels in Water Leach Purification (WLP) residue is below 1 Bq/g, he said. (Becquerel per gram [Bq/g] describes the rate at which radioactive material emits radiation in a given time period).

This was after the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) decided to amend two out of four conditions for the company's license.

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"AELB decided to amend Lynas Malaysia's current license conditions to allow them to continue importing lanthanide concentrate and carry out cracking and leeching activities until their license ends in March 2026," he said during a press conference at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency here on Tuesday (Oct 24).

However, Chang said Lynas Malaysia would have to build a permanent disposal facility (PDF) which ensures radioactive levels in water leach purification (WLP) residue is below 1 Bq/g.

This is done by extracting thorium concentration from WLP residue to the point it becomes free from legal restrictions under the Atomic Energy Licensing Act.

"An advantage of this is that the thorium concentration will only make up 0.25% of the total waste produced and it can be sold to other countries that have nuclear power plants," he said.

Chang said Lynas would also have to invest in facilities that can be scaled up from proof of concept to pilot to commercialisation.

A total of 1% or around RM25mil of Lynas Malaysia's gross revenue will also be channelled to fund research and development conducted by local experts.

"Lynas has been given two years until December 2025 to scale up their facilities from lab scale to pilot to commercialisation and ensure no radioactive waste is produced from extraction and cracking and leeching activities," he said.

Chang said AELB decided to amend Lynas Malaysia's license conditions after the company made a proposal to the licensing board about its thorium extraction technology.

With this, Chang said radioactive waste would not be produced after extraction and cracking and leeching activities are carried out on lanthanide concentrate.

Thorium extraction technology has been used in the country and researched by other countries, he added.

"It is a win-win situation for all parties as the (thorium extraction technology) fulfills our intention to not allow continuous accumulation of radioactive waste and it solves the problem of millions of tons of existing waste," Chang said.

Chang added that AELB will verify and do due diligence on the new technology and believes Lynas Malaysia can successfully complete the scaling-up process by Dec 2025.

Cracking and leaching operations at Lynas Malaysia were supposed to cease after July 1 but in May, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang said a six-month extension was given after taking into consideration the global supply chain conditions for rare earth.

Lynas also said it had received leave from the Kuala Lumpur High Court to proceed with its applications for judicial review of the Malaysian operating licencing conditions.

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