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Malaysia tells Lynas to remove radioactive waste for licence renewal

Rare earth production line at Lynas’ plant in Kuantan, Malaysia. (Image taken from Lynas’ presentation.)

Malaysia has told Lynas Corp (ASX:LYC), the Australian miner with a rare earth elements processing plant on the country’s east coast, to remove the radioactive waste collected as a result of its activities over the past six years if it wants to continue to operate.

Among the conditions set by the country’s Energy and Environment Ministry, the miner must also submit an action plan for non-radioactive waste disposal for future licences or permission renewals.

The “management of the waste residue from the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) should be given priority to ensure the wellbeing of the community and the environment”, the ministry said in a statement.

Waste needs to be removed by September 2, 2019, when Lynas’ temporary storage licence expires.

The decision follows a review of the company’s operations in the Southeast Asian country kicked off by the new government, which took power in May.

The six-year-old facility — known as the Lynas Advance Material Plant (LAMP) — was the centre of relentless attacks from environmental groups and local residents while under construction in 2012. They feared about the impact the low-level radioactive waste the refinery generates could have on the health of those living nearby and the environment.

In October, the company’s chief executive and managing director, Amanda Lacaze raised concerns about the impartiality of a couple of members of the committee reviewing its operations, as both are known for being long time opponents of having the refinery in Malaysia.

That led to minister Fuziah Salleh, who chaired the inquiry group, to step down and the committee letting Lynas continue storing residues at the plant, while it awaited the decision on a longer-term application.

“I am especially relieved that Lynas will have to remove its hazardous waste from Malaysia,” Salleh said applauding the decision. “A responsible  corporation would have made sure that its wastes have a realistic and safe disposal mechanism before commencing its operations to generate them.”

Sydney-based Lynas is one of the world’s main suppliers of rare earths outside China. The metallic elements, crucial in the production of magnets, are extracted in Western Australia, but processed in Malaysia.

Its temporary storage licence for radioactive residue in the province of Kuantan is up for renewal in September 2019, while its approval for non-radioactive waste storage is valid until February 2019.