KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — No final decision has been made on mining firm Lynas’s plan to recycle waste from its Kuantan rare-earth plant, Malaysia’s regulator Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) has said.
According to AELB, Lynas had already submitted the results of its research on the recycling of its Water Leached Purification (WLP) residue for commercial use as road base aggregates or road building materials, but further study was required.
“The tests were conducted by accredited laboratories, which confirmed the suitability of the product for its intended use and that its radioactivity levels are below regulatory limits, AELB has requested that further tests be performed on more batches and will only make a decision upon receiving those results,” AELB wrote in a recent email response to The Malay Mail Online.
The WLP is reportedly the only one of three residues produced as by-products of the refining process that is radioactive, with a reading of six becquerel per gram.
Besides submitting its waste recycling plans to AELB in July this year, Lynas had also handed over its plans for a permanent disposal facility (PDF) in the same month to the regulator.
AELB confirmed that it already approved Lynas’s PDF plans after finding that it had met the necessary requirements.
“Lynas had submitted its Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) plans and the AELB Board, having been satisfied that it has fulfilled all conditions and criteria, has approved it,” AELB said in the same response.
AELB explained that all applicants — including Lynas — are required to submit their waste management plans to the regulator during the licensing process, adding that the company had included the guidelines for the site of a PDF.
“The PDF documents submitted by Lynas provide the details of their Waste Management Plans. The criteria for siting such a facility are provided should it be necessary for Lynas to construct one in the future.
When asked if Lynas had identified a site for the PDF, AELB said there was no need to build the facility now.
“There is no need to identify a specific location at this point in time as such a facility is not required yet,” it said, having stressed that Lynas’s proposal was not an application to build a PDF.
In September last year, AELB granted Lynas (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd its TOL, which came with several conditions. AELB’s then director-general Raja Datuk Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan had said the TOL would be for a two-year period that would end on September 2, 2014.
Lynas was required to submit both its plans to recycle the waste for commercial purposes and its plans for a PDF within 10 months of the issuance of the TOL.
In the same email response, AELB said that it was monitoring the operations of the Lynas plant “round the clock (24/7)”, stating that it has found the radiation levels onsite and offsite the plant up to a 20km radius to be within “regulatory limits”.
“The findings indicate that Lynas’s operations are safe and under control,” AELB said, having said that it will continue to monitor and ensure that Lynas is complying with the TOL conditions and all the safety requirements under the country’s laws.
Last week, both AELB and Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd said that the rare-earth plant was not affected by Pahang’s massive floods, which forced tens of thousands of residents there to evacuate after days of continual rain.
Lynas also dispelled fears that the waste stored in its residue storage facility (RSF) would leak into the ground due to the heavy downpour in Kuantan, noting that the RSF was designed to prevent leaching and had met international and national standards.
AELB similarly said that the RSF’s lining would prevent WLP from leaking into the ground, saying that there would be “no risk” of radioactive leaks even if the RSF was flooded as the WLP residue’s radioactivity concentration would be diluted.
Critics previously voiced concern that the plastic lining in the RSF would not be able to keep the waste from leaking out, reportedly claiming that it was too thin and insisted that the company identify a permanent disposal facility (PDF) site.
Unconvinced by the company’s repeated assurances that its plant does not pose any safety and health hazards, local environmental activists continue to protest and insist that Lynas shuts down its RM2.5 billion Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan.
Himpunan Hijau said 1.2 million Malaysians had by then signed its petition launched in August in their bid to close down the plant, with the activist group’s chairman Wong Tack saying on the same day that Lynas must pull out of the country by June 29 next year or face a massive street protest.