KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 — As debate continues to rage over the start of the Lynas rare earth plant in Malaysia, the Western Australian government has said it will reject calls to take back the mining company’s radioactive waste.
“The Western Australian government does not support the importation and storage of other countries’ radioactive waste,” the state government leader, Norman Moore told its parliament just last Thursday.
Moore, who is the Western Australian minister for mines and petroleum, fisheries and also of electoral affairs, was replying to Greens MP, Robin Chapple.
Chapple had noted that Kuantan MP, Fuziah Salleh, has been lobbying the Malaysian government to pressure Sydney-based Lynas Corp to take back to Australia any radioactive waste material from its RM700 million rare earths refinery now being built in Gebeng, Pahang.
The Western Australian government’s response appears to confirm what the mining giant disclosed to The Malaysian Insider in an interview yesterday.
“We have perfectly good permission (from the government) to store it onsite, forever,” said its CEO, Nicholas Curtis.
The world’s biggest rare earths producer outside of China started building its plant in Gebeng two years ago and hopes to be able to start operations in September and is awaiting the go-ahead from Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB).
Fuziah has been the most vocal critic of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) and has said she is working with the Australian Greens Party to pressure their government against allowing its companies dumping hazardous wastes in Malaysia.
“Now the Australians are saying that it’s our radioactive waste, not theirs!” she wrote in her blog last night, in an immediate reaction to the news.
Local residents and environmentalists have countered Lynas’ claims that its raw material has only two per cent of the thorium — the radioactive element found in virtually all rare earth deposits — by arguing that the waste would build up over time, especially as it was reported that it would process 10 times as much ore as the Bukit Merah refinery.
“The waste is a sitting time bomb,” Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia (EPSM) president Nithi Nesadurai had said.
Lynas has repeatedly reassured critics that its Mount Weld mine Down Under was one of three unique sites with rare earth deposits of very low levels of radiation and should not be compared to the Bukit Merah plant that is still being cleaned up at a cost of RM303 million nearly 20 years after being shuttered.
Putrajaya has also assured the public that the federal government will cancel Lynas’s operating permit should the company breach safety rules on radiation.
However, toxicologist, Dr Jayabalan Thambyappa who had treated Bukit Merah residents for leukaemia had warned that it was an eyewash to allay fears of contamination.
Perak residents have blamed the Japanese-owned Asian Rare Earths (ARE) plant there for the increased incidents of cancer and birth defects.