Malaysia Australia Rare Earths

Activists hold placards during a demonstration against Australian miner Lynas in front of Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2011. Pic: AP.

Protesters against the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) operating in Kuantan, Malaysia face bleak days ahead after the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) granted the controversial plant a Full Operating State Licence (FOSL) after the Temporary Operating Licence (TOL) issued in 2012 expired Tuesday.

A full licence granted to rare earths mining company Lynas Corp Ltd. may be a big win for the industry, but for ordinary citizens battling for their health and safety it is a major setback.

Amin Abdullah, corporate communications manager of Lynas Malaysia SDN BHD, confirmed the board  granted the company a two-year full licence. Amin said in an email to Asian Correspondent: “We are pleased to inform that AELB has awarded us with the Full Operating Stage License (FOSL) yesterday.” He said this has been announced to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

AELB Director-General Hamrah Mohd Ali said the FOSL as a proof Lynas has fully complied with the conditions set by AELB during its TOL operating stage. Lynas can apply for further renewal when the FOSL expires in two years.

Hamrah added that, “Lynas deserves a three-year FOSL but the board decided only to grant a two-year licence.” He said the board members have the right to decide on the period of the licence, and he was unable to provide the details of the decision-making process since he was not involved.

Activist groups including Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia and Stop Lynas! have been urging the company to reveal the location of its waste disposal facility. The permanent disposal facility (PDF) is one of the five conditions set in the licence applications. The groups have been fighting against toxic and radioactive wastes from the plant which they claim to be posing health threats to the local community. The location of waste disposal facility has been undisclosed up to this time.

However, Amin noted that during the two years of the TOL, Lynas fulfilled a list of conditions set by the regulators and was continuously being monitored by various regulatory bodies, including AELB and Department Of Energy in Kuantan. “We are pleased to inform that Lynas complies with all relevant National and International regulations & standards set by IAEA, AELB, DOE etc, “ he said.

LAMP's upstream and downstream extraction sections. Pic: Lynas.

Hamrah dismissed criticisms on Lynas’ undisclosed facilities, saying they were merely “interpretations”.

“The problem you raised that members of the public had said that the condition of the (temporary operating) licence had not been complied with, that was their interpretation. But we (act) based on facts, science and figures, we are not (acting) based on hearsay,” he stressed.

The AELB issued the two-year TOL to Lynas on Sept 3, 2012 with five conditions, including disclosure of the PDF of the radioactive waste.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry later imposed two extra conditions over the licence, which required Lynas to come up with a method to immobilise the radioactive elements in its waste, as well as an emergency response plan on dust control.

Amin said Lynas has been operating in Gebeng Industrial Estate in Kuantan, Pahang since November 2012 after being granted a TOL which has fulfilled all the regulatory requirements set by the AELB and the Malaysian government.

“These regulatory requirements include the Environmental Impact Assessment as well as Radiological Impact Assessment that must be done first and concluded at the initial stage of the application  for the license. Public engagements were also done at the start of the application and it is an ongoing continuous activity until today,” he added.