Australian mining company, Lynas Corp, is set to operate in three weeks’ time, in the midst of increasing pressure on the company and the Malaysian government to close down its controversial rare earth mining plant.

The Star reported that the first phase of the plant is 97 percent complete, and all Lynas needs is the temporary operating licence (TOL) that the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board had approved but yet to be issued.

“The licence has been approved but we have yet to receive it. Lynas has already fulfilled all the conditions stipulated for the licence to be issued and we are just waiting.

“We hope it can be issued very soon because we need to start operations,” Mashal Ahmad, the managing director of Lynas’ Malaysian chapter was qouted as saying.

He also said that Lynas looked forward to be called up to give explanations to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) formed to investigate on the company’s operations in Kuantan, Pahang in West Malaysia. “The faster, the better,” Mashal said.

The PSC was formed following public pressure that Lynas’ rare earth mining plant could cause radioactive contamination to the residential areas nearby. Pressure groups had claimed that the synthetic gypsum that Lynas would produce from its plant in Kuantan would be an additional source of radiation to the locals.

Lynas was supposed to start its operations last year, but it was delayed and the company was only granted a temporary operating licence in February of this year.

Mounting public pressure on the issue had caused the government to act further, and the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had told Lynas Corp to move its waste disposal site away from its rare earth refinery and residences in Gebeng, to reassure the local communities.

Lynas had also submitted a letter of undertaking to send the residue overseas if it cannot find a suitable waste disposal site in Malaysia.

However, last week, a new pressure point was added to the issue, following the death of a 29-year-old disabled man, Cheah Kok Leong, that was claimed by his mother and activists to be a consequence of radioactive poisoning in Bukit Merah, Perak, more than three decades ago.

His mother, Lai Kwan, had worked in Asia Rare Earth, a mining plant that is jointly owned by Japan-based conglomerate Mitsubishi and local investors before she was pregnant with Cheah. The rare earth mining plant has closed down for 15 years but a massive cleaning-up operations is still taking place in Papan, several kilometres away from Bukit Merah.