AELB: Lynas committed to returning radioactive waste to Australia
DENGKIL, June 28 — Lynas is committed to return all potentially harmful waste from its rare earths plant here to Australia despite its government's firm refusal to take it in, Malaysia's radiation regulator said today.
The Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) told reporters today the Australian miner would have to send home all residue that could not be turned into commercial products or if a location for a permanent disposal facility (PDF) here could not be determined or approved.
"Lynas will have 10 months to come up with a permanent disposal facility plan for its radioactive residue upon receiving its temporary operating license (TOL)," said Dr Noor Hasnah Mohamed Khairullah who is special adviser to the AELB director-general.
"If they fail to find a location for the PDF, or if the plan is not approved, then Lynas has to return the residues back to Australia. We have spoken to them. They are very committed," she added.
However, Noor Hasnah said the TOL will only be issued after Lynas fulfils two new conditions imposed by Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI) Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili recently.
"The TOL will only be issued after Lynas complies with all the conditions including the two new conditions," she said, adding the conditions set forth by Ongkili would require Lynas to submit a plan to immobilise radioactive elements in its waste, and to come up with an emergency response plan on dust control.
"So far out of license conditions, they have yet to meet the two additional conditions set by the minister, the rest they have already met," she explained.
She added there was no time frame for the rare earth miner to submit its proposals, and that it was "up to Lynas when they will submit".
"We do not impose a deadline or anything," she reiterated.
"But it is in their best interest to do so as soon as possible."
Previously, the AELB had said if Lynas Corp could recycle all its waste from the RM2.5 billion plant in Kuantan as planned, then it would not matter if the PDF proposal was rejected.
The government had insisted on the PDF, an additional requirement over standard regulations, as a backup in case of a "worst-case scenario".
The government said in March that Lynas had agreed to these conditions but Datuk Mashal Ahmad, managing director for the company's Malaysian subsidiary, had said the process to recycle waste with low-level radiation into non-hazardous commercial products is ready.
According to Lynas, refining rare earth ore from Mount Weld, West Australia will result in three forms of residue, two of which have a radiation level of below 1 Becquerel per gram (Bq/g) which is considered non-radioactive and outside of regulatory control by both international and local authorities.
Professor Ismail Bahari, the company’s radiological safety adviser, has said that it can process the last residue and dilute radioactivity to below 1 Bq/g.
The Sydney-based firm, which expects a windfall of RM8 billion a year from sale of the highly-sought after mineral, says the processed waste can then be safely used as material for road-building.
Lynas has faced fierce protests from local residents and opposition politicians who say that the plant will cause radiation pollution despite the company insisting it has met and exceeded local and international safety standards.