The Lynas rare-earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang has been granted a Full Operating Stage Licence (FOSL), days before its two-year Temporary Operating Licence (TOL) expires midnight today.
The Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) director-general Hamrah Mohd Ali said the board met on August 21 and agreed to issue a two-year FOSL to Australian rare earth miner and producer Lynas after it fulfilled all the conditions set.
"They have complied with all the conditions set by us during the TOL stage and that is why the licence was issued," he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted today.
He said this included having a permanent disposal facility, a condition set by the TOL, which Lynas detractors had accused the Australian company of failing to comply with.
To this Hamrah said: "We work based on science and facts, not hearsay. They have submitted all the relevant documents to the board which showed they have complied with the conditions set and that is why we granted the licence to them."
Hamrah said the board could issue FOSL of between one and three years but he could not explain why Lynas was given a two-year licence.
"It is up to the board to decide on the tenure of the licences. Lynas is one of the 2,000 plants in Malaysia where we issue licences but the company can renew their licence after the two years has lapsed," he said.
The Australian mining company chose Malaysia for its operations following generous incentives including pioneer status and a 12-year tax holiday. It employs some 300 personnel in its Kuantan facility.
Despite strong protest from environmentalists, in September 2012, the AELB granted Lynas (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd a TOL for a two-year period ending on September 2, 2014.
In December last year, the board said Lynas had submitted last July the results of its research on recycling its waste for commercial purposes.
However, it said further study was needed on the findings.
The main concern over the rare-earth processing plant was contamination of the coastal environment and the adverse health impact which could result from the mismanagement of radioactive waste streams.
This fear stemmed from the experience in the 1980s at Mitsubishi Chemical’s Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh, which was shut down more than two decades ago and linked to cases of leukaemia because of radioactive exposure, some of which were fatal.
The board had on several occasions assured residents that it was monitoring the operations of the Lynas plant around the clock and said it had found radiation levels onsite and offsite to be within acceptable limits. – September 2, 2014.