Don’t renew Lynas’ licence if Malaysia, Australia lock horns over waste, says MP

The Lynas rare earths processing plant in Kuantan, Pahang. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh has urged the government not to renew the operating licence of Lynas Malaysia if an impasse is reached between Putrajaya and Canberra on the handling of the company’s low-level radioactive waste.

Fuziah, a vocal critic of the rare earths company, said Malaysia must exhaust all efforts to send back the water leached purification (WLP) residue produced by Lynas’ Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Kuantan.

LAMP produces two kinds of waste: non-radioactive neutralisation underflow and WLP which contains thorium, a naturally occurring, low-level radioactive material.

Fuziah said it was “totally unacceptable” for the waste to be reused or even spread throughout the country, as recently suggested by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Even though it is low-level radiation, the half-life of thorium in the waste is 14 billion years,” she told FMT.

Half-life refers to the time it takes for the radioactivity of a certain material to fall to half of its original value.

The best practice, Fuziah said, would be for the waste to be sent back to Australia where the rare earths were mined. She said this was why Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin had set this as a precondition for the renewal of Lynas Malaysia’s operating licence.

“Failing this, the lesson to be learnt is that Australia has shortchanged Malaysia in the name of investments.”

In the case of an impasse between Malaysia and Australia on the handling of the low-level radioactive waste, Fuziah said Malaysia would have no choice but to refrain from renewing Lynas’ operating licence.

“The waste generated up till now must then be stored in a permanent deposit facility (PDF), and there is still no PDF site identified for Lynas’ waste,” she added.

Fuziah was commenting on West Australia Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston’s recent remarks that the state would not budge from its stand not to accept Lynas’ waste from Malaysia.

In an Australian Financial Review report yesterday, Johnston also indicated that Yeo would be wasting her time when she visits Perth to discuss the matter.

Yeo, who has continued to push West Australia to accept some 450,000 tonnes of waste from the processing of rare earths stockpiled near LAMP, is scheduled to meet Johnston to discuss the issue on June 20.

Meanwhile, Dr Looi Hoong Wah, a fellow of the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, said the radioactivity of Lynas’ waste had been misunderstood, and that there were opportunities for it to be reused.

Speaking in his personal capacity, he told FMT that Lynas’ waste contains phosphates which could be turned into quality fertiliser.

“Over the years, Malaysia has imported millions and millions of tonnes of equally radioactive phosphate fertilisers with radioactivity of 2-7 becquerels per gramme.

“These imported radioactive fertilisers have been spread out over all our land and have not been proven to cause any harm or any increase in radioactivity,” said Looi who previously specialised in radiology and radiotherapy.

Looi said for the “far-sighted”, Lynas’ waste was a “mountain” waiting to be turned into a fortune, but for those who do not understand science, it will only ever be a pile of waste.