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A path littered with potholes for Lynas despite thumbs up from independent reviews

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Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

KUALA LUMPUR — December 5, 2018: The position of the world’s second largest rare-earth producer remains very much in the news, with the company highlighting the inconsistencies between the directives from the Malaysian government and the recommendations of a review committee which had yesterday absolved it of any malpractice.

One contradiction, said Lynas Corporation Ltd. in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange today, was the pre-condition for the company to ship out all of its water leached purification (WLP) residue before September 2019.

The review committee noted that Lynas should be prepared to export the residues only if the PDF (permanent depository facility) location is not identified or approved.

“The potential construction of a PDF for WLP residue has always been part of our planning. It is provided for in our financial statements and by way of the PDF bond in excess of USD$34 million that is held by the Malaysian regulator,” Lynas stated.

The condition was announced by the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change yesterday, which coincided with the public release of the committee’s 197-page report that was uploaded at the ministry’s website.

Another inconsistency which Lynas highlighted was the supposedly conflicting conduct of the ministry where it, on October 30, stated that the Cabinet would have to first review the committee’s report before making any decision.

“This appears to be policy based on politics, not on science. It is very disappointing to receive this on the same day that the review committee report was released,” said Lynas chief executive officer Amanda Lacaze in the statement.

As for the ministry’s second condition for Lynas to submit an action plan on the disposal of the company’s other residue, the non-radioactive neutralised underflow (NUF), Lynas stated that it has already submitted such a plan to the Department of Environment.

The Lynas controversy first hogged the news in 2011 when critics claimed that the operations of the company’s refinery will turn Gebeng off Kuantan into a radioactive wasteland because it will allegedly dump gallons of radioactive wastes into nearby rivers.

It has since then subjected to three reviews, in which the first two, in 2011 and 2014, were done by the International Atomic Energy Agency which rated Lynas’ operations as intrinsically low-risk. The latest review echoed a similar verdict.

In the latest review, the committee pointed out that Lynas only refines rare-earths containing naturally occurring radioactive materials and that the low-level radiation from the WLP poses no threat to human lives.

The finding was in tandem with the all-clear given by six regulatory outfits -aired at last month’s public hearing in Kuantan- that have been monitoring Lynas since it started operations in 2012.

Rare-earths are used in almost everything, from computers to cars, mobile devices and even in hybrid cars. China currently has a stranglehold on global rare-earth export with Lynas being the only producer outside of China.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]