Activist doubts if Lynas can resolve waste problem

PETALING JAYA: A “Stop Lynas” campaigner has questioned whether Lynas, the rare earths processing company, could afford to comply with regulations to send accumulated radioactive waste out of Malaysia as a condition for renewal of its operating licence for its Kuantan factory.

Tan Bun Teet, chairman of the “Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas” campaign, said if Lynas complied with the government’s conditions, there would not be a radioactive threat to the environment. The secondary processing plant in Gebeng would be just like any other chemical plant.

“The question remains: will Lynas do it or can they afford to do it?” he asked.

Tan said it may not be economically viable for them to comply with such regulations. “Currently, they have all the facilities for the cracking, leaching, extraction and finishing in the Kuantan plant,” he said. “Almost half of the facility may have to shut down.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government would allow the plant to continue operating, as it was a “very big investment from Australia” but that the problem of radioactive waste must be dealt with.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh and environment minister Yeo Bee Yin said Lynas must resolve the issue of radioactive waste before it is allowed to continue operations.

Last April, the prime minister had said Lynas can continue its operations so long as the raw material it brings in from Australia was “decontaminated”. He said the cracking (a refining process) of the Central Lanthanide Deposit (CLD) ore – extracted from Mt Weld in Western Australia – should be done outside of the country.

Tan said Lynas could have set up a refinery in Australia, as they were given permission by the Australian government previously. However, he said they did not proceed, on the grounds that it was more costly.

“I believe the Australian environmental law is very very strict. They cannot get away with problems that we face in Malaysia, if they built the plant in Australia and did the extraction there,” he said.

Another anti-Lynas campaigner, a Kuantan resident who only wanted to be known as Dr Yu, feared that more radioactive waste would pile up if the Lynas’ licence was renewed. “I also foresee escalating public health issues for villagers and more contamination of our ground water.”

Dr Yu said: “A licence to operate – if issued – is a licence to further contaminate.”