By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — The die was cast today on Lynas Corporation’s rare earth plant in Kuantan with Putrajaya reminding those who opposed it that the Australian miner “should be” allowed to proceed now that it has passed all necessary conditions.
The statement, issued by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed here, effectively shuts out further dissent from the miner’s detractors, who have continued to highlight fears of radioactive pollution from the RM2.5 billion plant.
The minister acknowledged that public fear has not been allayed but reasoned that the government had already subjected the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) to an “unprecedented series of evaluations” by experts.
“I [would] also like to point out that it is the government’s position that in cases where all conditions imposed by regulatory agencies have been complied with, an applicant should be allowed to carry on with the implementation of its project,” he said, referring to Lynas’ application for a manufacturing license to kick off operations at its refinery in Gebeng, Kuantan.
Mustapa reminded Kuantan folk that LAMP is not a nuclear plant but a chemical processing factory, while the rare earth ore to be used at the site was not categorised a radioactive material.
Instead, he pointed out that the material falls under the category of “NORM” or naturally occurring radioactive material, which has a radiation level that is well below hazardous levels.
Lynas has likely cleared its final major hurdle to getting its temporary operating license (TOL) after the government-formed parliamentary select committee (PSC) called for miner’s licence to be issued as “scientific facts” showed that its plant is safe.
The positive feedback tabled in the PSC report came just four days after the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI) dismissed an appeal against the Australian miner’s plant by residents living nearby and instead imposed two conditions that Lynas says it will have no problems satisfying.
Despite objections from opposition lawmakers, Parliament yesterday approved the PSC’s recommendations, which include handing the Australian miner its long-delayed TOL despite continued questions over the disposal of potentially radioactive waste.
The opposition lawmakers had quizzed panel chief Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin over the Sydney-based firm’s commitment to ship out waste if it fails to meet local radiation standards, saying it would also not meet regulations at its source in Western Australia.
This forced Khaled to admit that “Western Australia will only accept non-radioactive residue and it would not be possible to get a full commitment to receive the waste.”
He instead pointed out that Lynas, whose RM2.5 billion rare earth refinery in Kuantan has ignited fears of radiation pollution among residents there, had given a written undertaking to ship out any radioactive waste “and I am confident they will honour it.”
Adding to his Cabinet colleague’s assertion today, Mustapa explained that LAMP’s licence had been subject to the approval of various regulatory bodies, including the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and the Department of the Environment (DoE).
I’d like to reiterate that the highest concern of this ‘People’s First’ government is to ensure that public health and safety is not compromised. — Mustapa Mohamed
He added that the plant had also been subjected to an evaluation by both the AELB and DoE to determine its impact on health and the environment, as well as an evaluation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on health risks.
“The IAEA also took into account views submitted by members of the public and public interest groups,” he said.
Mustapa pointed out that including the PSC’s findings, all conclusions in these evaluation exercises had returned consistent results.
“They had found that: the level of radioactivity at the LAMP site will be way below acceptable limits... and that the regulatory authorities have put in place adequate measures to continuously monitor conditions at the plant, including all activities ranging from arrival of raw materials at the port, transport to the site, processing at the site and the disposal of waste,” he said.
“I’d like to reiterate that the highest concern of this ‘People’s First’ government is to ensure that public health and safety is not compromised,” he added.
The Sydney-based firm told The Malaysian Insider it would submit proposals by yesterday to meet the new terms that would allow it to obtain finally a long-awaited TOL, which was approved in February but was held up due to the challenge from the residents.
However, residents, who filed the appeal to MOSTI, have said they will challenge the minister’s decision in court, calling the conditions “flimsy” and “not specific enough and will in no way safeguard or appease the fears of residents living in the area.”
The formation of a parliamentary select committee on Lynas was approved in the Dewan Rakyat in March amid opposition furore over the alleged lack of terms of reference and suspicion that the nine-man panel would be used to “whitewash” the issue.
Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers also questioned the point of the select committee given that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had already said the government would not be bound by the panel’s findings.
Lynas had said last month that it was on track to start up its rare earth plant in Malaysia within weeks after Khaled called it “the safest rare earth plant in the world.”
It also said in April that delays in obtaining the licence for its facility, which was initially approved in January, may have “very serious consequences” for the RM80 billion worth of rare earth orders already received as it is “sold out for the next 10 years.”