Putrajaya places new condition should Lynas dispose rare-earths waste in Malaysia

Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a press conference after a roundtable discussion with international chambers of commerce at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre August 1, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a press conference after a roundtable discussion with international chambers of commerce at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre August 1, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Aug 1 — The Pakatan Harapan government has removed the requirement for Lynas Corp to repatriate its rare-earth processing waste as a precondition for its licence renewal, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad confirmed today.

Instead, the prime minister said the Australian mining firm was directed to construct a permanent disposal facility (PDF) to treat the water leach purification (WLP) residue that is created from rare-earth processing at its facility in Gebeng, Kuantan.

“We are giving this condition to Lynas that they should have a plan for dealing with the waste. We are waiting for them to tell us how they will do that.

“Whether they can find the place, whether they can dispose the waste or not,” said Dr Mahathir.

Singaporean news outlet The Straits Times first reported that Putrajaya was dropping its demand for Lynas to ship its waste back to Australia and will agree to the PDF.

It quoted a source as saying Lynas must pay a RM206 million security deposit to finance the project and approval was dependent on the firm finding a suitable location and obtaining the necessary permits.

Lynas previously insisted that it cannot manage to export 450,000 tonnes of the water leach purification (WLP) residue, a by-product of their refinery operations, by September and offered to build the PDF as a compromise.

The firm agreed to build the facility last year following the recommendation from the executive review committee appointed by the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry.

However, Minister Yeo Bee Yin then insisted that Lynas must export its waste back to Australia as a prerequisite for Lynas’s licence renewal.

Following approaches by Yeo’s ministry, Australian authorities flatly rejected any possibility of accepting the Lynas waste in their country.

On July 9, Deputy Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis told Parliament that they were awaiting further input before deciding on Lynas.

On July 21, 88 NGOs signed a petition urging Putrajaya to discontinue the rare-earth miner’s licence and criticised the government for appearing to favour the Australian mining firm.

Prior to the 14th general election, the rejection of the Lynas rare-earth refinery in Kuantan was among platforms PH had used to garner public support.

This contributed to DAP’s Wong Tack — a strident opponent of Lynas — securing an upset victory over the MCA president at the time, Datuk Seri Liow TIong Lai, in Bentong.

Since then, the coalition has warmed to the idea of rare-earth processing in the country, with the Entrepreneur Development Ministry defending the industry as potentially worth RM100 billion and the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry identifying other possible locations for rare-earth mining and development.