Malaysia renews Lynas’ rare earths plant licence for 6 months, with conditions

Asia
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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has extended the operating licence for a rare earth processing plant owned by Australian miner Lynas Corp for six months with new conditions, ending a dispute over waste disposal at the site.

The Atomic Energy Licensing Board, an agency under the environment ministry, said in a statement on Thursday (Aug 15) that Lynas’ processing plant in Kuantan, Pahang, will be given a six-month extension of its operating licence.

The original licence was due to expire on Sep 2.

Lynas is required to identify a specific location with approval from local authorities for a permanent disposal facility to store its low-level radioactive waste, or it must secure official written approval from a recipient country that will take the waste, the regulator said.

“These conditions were decided after the Australian federal government and the Western Australian government informed Malaysia that they would not be accepting any radioactive water leach purification (WLP) residue from Lynas,” the statement read.

As the biggest producer of rare earths outside China, Lynas has been operating its plant in Gebeng, Kuantan, since 2012, using rare earths mined from Mount Weld in Western Australia.

READ: Australia eyes rare earth deposits amid fears over China supplies

READ: China set to control rare earth supply for years due to processing dominance

Rare earths are used in various electronic products, including military equipment and consumer electronics.

Its operations in Malaysia were met with fierce opposition from environmental groups over fears that it produces radioactive waste.

In response, Lynas had repeatedly stressed that it is compliant with all conditions and regulations enforced by government agencies.

READ: Explainer – US dependence on China’s rare earths

Ahead of the government decision on Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last week that Malaysia “cannot force” Lynas to leave the country.

“We invite them (to invest) and then we kick them out. Others will say the country made a promise but, when there is a problem, we kick them out … we cannot do that,” he told reporters.  

He said foreign investors were watching the government’s action on Lynas.

“If we chase out the Lynas foreign investor, others will not come. Because there are some whom we do not like … we ask them to leave. Who would want to come, they must have certainty,” he said.

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