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Australia says it again: No to Lynas waste

 | February 21, 2012

But AELB says it is not aware of the Australian stand.

PETALING JAYA: The Australian government today reiterated that it will not accept responsibility for any waste material produced by Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

In an official statement to FMT, the Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Norman Moore, asserted that “Australia does not support the importation and storage of other countries’ radioactive waste”.

Moore first uttered these words in Parliament last April when Greens MP, Robin Chapple, noted that Kuantan MP, Fuziah Salleh, was lobbying for Lynas to return its waste material to Australia.

“National legislation stipulates that Australia will not accept responsibility for any waste product produced from offshore processing of resources purchased in Australia such as iron ore, mineral sands and the rare earth produced by Lynas Corporation,” Moore said in his statement.

“Development and management of the Malaysian plant is a matter for the Malaysian government and not the Western Australian state government.”

Moore’s stand will likely put both Lynas and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) in a sticky situation.

One of the five conditions attached to the recent approval of Lynas’ temporary operating licence (TOL) is that it must take full responsibility for waste management from its Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) including returning the waste to the source, if necessary.

In a media briefing last week, AELB director-general, Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, gave his assurance that the board would insist on a letter of undertaking from Lynas Australia that it would adhere to this condition.

Worst-case scenario

When it was pointed out that Australia had already rejected the return of waste to the country, Aziz replied that he was not aware of this and as such would not be able to comment on it.

“Have you spoken to Australia?” he asked. Told that Moore had been quoted in media reports on the matter, Aziz said, “I don’t base my comments on media reports. I base mine on facts.”

He emphasised that returning the waste to Australia was a last resort in a worst-case scenario and that AELB already had Plan B, C and D in place.

“We will wait for the letter of undertaking from Lynas Australia,” Aziz said. “But the Malaysian law is very clear and I don’t foresee any problems.”

Lynas Australia has backed up Aziz’s assurance, saying that there has been a long but necessary process of due diligence for the LAMP.

“The regulatory pathway is clear and a staged approvals process is in place,” it said in a statement to FMT. “This includes planning for the best and worst-case scenarios. Hence Lynas would prefer not to comment on speculation and speculated outcomes.”

Chapple, however, believes that the waste should be processed at Mount Weld in Western Australia and placed back in the ground from where it orginated rather than “be left in piles on swampland in Malaysia”.

In a press statement following the TOL approval, he pointed out that rare earth mining and refinery had caused controversy in China, the world’s leading source of the minerals.

Excessive contamination

“One of the major reasons China has reduced its rare earth output and exports since 2009 was the government’s and public concern that mining and refining operations were causing excessive contamination to surrounding areas,” Chapple stated.

Last April, Chapple had called on the Western Australian government to force Lynas to ensure that the raw material it plans to process at the RM2.5 billion plant in Gebeng is free from thorium, the radioactive element found in all rare earth deposits.

Greens Senator, Scott Ludlum, echoed Chappl’s concerns over AELB’s decision to approve Lynas’ TOL application especially when the original plan resembled a “cowboy job”.

Ludlum also called the public viewing of Lynas’ application permit documents a “smoke and mirrors consultation process” due to the “unreasonable” restrictions placed on the public.

He also questioned why Lynas Australia and the Malaysian authorities were still reticent in revealing information even after protests from locals and environmentalists had forced Lynas to revise its plans.

“The original plan raised a lot of questions,” Ludlum said. “The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made a series of recommendations to reduce risks posed by the plan, including a better long-term waste management plan.”

“(The Malaysian) government then imposed additional safety standards but there has been a lack of transparency.”

While AELB has yet to issue Lynas its TOL, the Australian mining giant is hoping to fire up its plant by the second quarter of the year.


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