Malaysian, Australian govt officials to meet on Lynas this month

The operating licence for the Lynas plant in Gebeng, Kuantan is due for renewal in September. (Facebook pic)

MELBOURNE: Australian and Malaysian government officials are due to meet later this month and the plan for Lynas Corp’s controversial rare earths waste storage in the country is likely to be at the top of the agenda.

Bill Johnston, Western Australia’s minister for mines, will meet Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin in Perth on June 20, a spokeswoman for the mines ministry told Reuters.

Lynas, which is the only proven producer of rare earths outside of China, is waiting to get an operating licence for its Malaysian processing plant renewed before it expires in September.

The global spotlight has fallen on rare earths in recent weeks after state media in China suggested that the country could halt exports of the minerals critical to US defence and other industries. China produces upwards of 85% of the strategic metals.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said last Thursday he expected Lynas’ operating licence to get renewed when it expires in September.

However, the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry wants to discuss ways to manage the radioactive waste from Lynas’ rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, Kuantan, including its removal.

Australia has already ruled out taking back the low-level radioactive residue produced by Lynas’ A$800 million (RM2.33 billion) plant, so the push by Malaysia shows that its new government remains divided over Lynas’ future in the country.

The Malaysian government set conditions in December for Lynas to remove its waste stockpiles before it would renew its operating licence, conditions that were “intact”, an energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry spokeswoman said on Friday.