Lynas: Rare earth waste safe, exported due to ‘unnecessary’ fear
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 ― Residues produced in refining rare earth at Lynas Corp’s controversial Kuantan plant is “safe” and has wide commercial uses, but will still be exported out of Malaysia due to “unnecessary” public fear, says the Australian miner.
The residues, also known as co-products, do not fall under the category of “radioactive waste”, Lynas told The Malaysian Insider, adding it can be recycled and need not be sent back to Australia under conditions in its licence.
“There has been a serious campaign of misinformation about the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) with the consequence of causing unnecessary fear and public anxiety,” said a spokesperson for Lynas.
“Consequently, Lynas has voluntarily undertaken to export the co-products of the LAMP, despite them being safe, usable materials which have a market demand in Malaysia,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) recently issued a two-year temporary operating licence (TOL) to Lynas despite widespread protests, but said the Australian miner was legally bound to remove residues from its RM2.5 billion plant.
However, Lynas repeated its long-standing assertion that “safe, valuable and sustainable” co-products from the refinery have a “broad range of commercial applications” including as building material, fertiliser, and durable road base.
It explained that the Kuantan plant “will produce three solid residues” that “will be recycled for commercial use as synthetic gypsum, magnesium-rich synthetic gypsum and synthetic aggregate”.
After further processing the recycled solid residues, the co-products that can be safely used for commercial purposes will be produced, it said.
Lynas said these three co-products “are not classified as dangerous goods under international transport standards, nor are they classified as ‘radioactive waste.’”
It said that this was due to the co-products’ low levels of “normally occurring radioactive material” (NORM) ― a common feature of many products such as bitumen, a material often used to make roads.
“Each co-product will undergo chemical analysis and international customs certification prior to export from Malaysia, which is another community and environmental health safeguard. This is standard international industrial practice,” it added.
Last Friday, an Australian diplomat told The Malaysian Insider that Lynas had applied to “import material” to Australia, despite Canberra’s policy of rejecting radioactive waste.
But Lynas clarified that the reported application is actually an “old application” that has been “placed on hold”.
“The development of commercial solutions for processed co-products from the LAMP means Lynas was able to place on hold a previous application to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) to import co-products into Australia,” it said.
On Monday, local environmental groups had demanded that Lynas show a detailed waste management plan or risk a “fight to the end”.
The TOL Lynas received two weeks ago from Malaysian authorities has paved the way for its rare earth plant to begin operations despite widespread public protests over safety and environmental concerns.
Lynas said that it would begin transporting and completing all steps to prepare enriching the rare earth ore mined in Australia by October.
The TOL allows Lynas to operate for a period of two years beginning September 3. The company has said it will employ some 300 people for the facility, which has received a 12-year tax holiday.
The AELB had emphasised that Lynas must adhere to all requirements and conditions imposed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation through the Atomic Energy Licensing Act.
Two weeks ago, five Kuantan residents were given the Kuantan High Court’s nod to challenge the science, technology and innovation minister’s decision to award a TOL to the Australian miner.
Last week, Stop Lynas Coalition failed in its bid to get leave from the Court of Appeal for a separate judicial review of AELB’s decision to grant a TOL to Lynas.