Malaysia approves rare earths plant

2012-02-01 18:11

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia gave the green light on Wednesday for a controversial rare earths plant being built by Australian miner Lynas despite fears its could produce harmful radioactive waste.

Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board said it granted a licence for the plant, which is near completion in the eastern state of Pahang, to begin operations for an initial two-year period under strict safety requirements.

"Based on the decision of the board, Lynas's application for a temporary operating licence is approved with several conditions," a board statement said.

It added the licence could be suspended or revoked if the company failed to meet conditions on handling potentially hazardous waste.

The facility is set to become one of the few sites outside China to process rare earths - metals used in high-tech equipment ranging from missiles to mobile phones.

Lynas has insisted the plant, which will handle rare earths imported from Australia, will be safe. But critics say radioactive waste could leak out, threatening public health and the environment.

The atomic licensing board reviewed Lynas's application in a closed-door meeting on Monday. The plant had originally been slated to start operations in the third quarter of last year.

The board said Lynas must submit plans within 10 months on how it would safely dispose of plant waste, and return it to "the original source" if necessary.

Lab rats

It also said Lynas will pay $50m to the Malaysian government as financial guarantee. If Lynas breaches the conditions and loses the license, it cannot apply for another, it said.

Fuziah Salleh, an opposition lawmaker in Pahang who has lead protests against the plant, said lawyers were expected to seek a court injunction to stop the plant from starting operations.

Fuziah, whose constituency is Kuantan, a coastal town near the plant site, said the company's waste management plan was "incomplete, full of holes and unacceptable".

"Of course I'm disappointed," she told AFP. "Basically the residents will become lab rats. We will become experiments."

Thousands of Malaysian opponents of the plant have held protests against the plant, mainly in Kuantan, over health and safety concerns.

The concerns led Malaysia to invite a panel of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess plans for the plant last year.

Malaysia ordered Lynas to comply with all safety recommendations made by the panel. Lynas has pledged to do so and says any waste will be handled according to strict standards.

Currently, China produces more than 95% of the world's rare earths - 17 elements critical to manufacturing everything from iPods to low-emission cars.

But Beijing has angered its trade partners by restricting overseas shipments in a bid to burnish its green credentials and tighten its grip over the metals, leading other countries to explore alternate sources.

  • ludlowdj - 2012-02-02 10:56

    One needs to question why an Australian company which intends to process Australian ore could have been built in Australia? is it the normal profit over all else mentality of corporate culture or is there something to the contamination concern.

  • Dan - 2012-02-03 09:33

    Labour cost and close to the market of manufacturing . The Ausies have the same problem than we have , very high labour cost , also the Australian health and safety regulations is so strict that it will cost a lot more to in aus to build a plant there. So the economic best answer is build the plant near the markets where labour cost are less than half of what it is in Aus

      ludlowdj - 2012-02-03 11:44

      Thanks thank for the input Dan, so it is profit driven as usual.

      Dan - 2012-02-04 01:09

      Read up about it a bit more . aparently some of the rare earths are slightly radioactive and they use a lot of acid in the processing , but someone (and i dont know where ) mentioned that PTA/JHb have 400% higher radioactivity levels than what is deemed safe becase of the old mine dumps . There are small amounts of uranuim in the gold ore . The Ausies are so safety concious , they even put warning labels on their compost , with a warning that it may contain live harmfull bacteria and pathogens . I think becuase of labour cost and the radioactivity in the processing , the aus goverment will never allow the prosesing of these minerals there

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