Australia did not reject Lynas waste, says CEO

Posted on March 20, 2012. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider-

By Clara Chooi
March 20, 2012

Curtis said Australia did not expressly prohibit the return of Lynas’s rare earth residue to the country. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — Lynas Corp has denied reports that the Western Australian government had refused to accept the radioactive waste residues from the miner’s RM2.5 billion rare earth plant in Malaysia.The Australian mining firm, currently under tremendous pressure to prove its refinery would pose no danger to Malaysians, told local media personnel at a dinner last night that the Australian government was merely reacting according to common conditions that any country would have with regards to such materials.

But, Lynas Corp chief executive Nick Curtis stressed, this did not mean authorities had rejected the proposal outright.

“No. That is not true (that the Australian government rejected the waste) … No country in the world allows you to take out the material, then send it back.

“What they say is, ‘we’ll have a look at what you want to do but you do not have automatic permission to do that (send the waste back)’,” he told a special dinner event with the heads of Chinese and alternative media organisations at the Seri Pacific Hotel last night.

The dinner, organised by the International Trade and Industry Ministry, is believed to be part of Putrajaya’s attempt to explain the Lynas issue to critics of the plant, who have resolutely insist that its residues would pose harmful levels of radiation to local folk.

Earlier today, the Dewan Rakyat approved the formation of a three-month parliamentary select committee (PSC), tasked to engage with all stakeholders in the controversial multibillion ringgit project that is expected to fire up its operations by year-end.

But despite Curtis’ claim that the Australian government had not rejected Lynas’s waste material, the CEO could not offer a guarantee that the company would return the residues back to its home country.

“We are not sure whether we want to send it back yet… we will investigate all alternatives (on waste disposal) including that (returning it to Australia) but it is not necessarily the best alternative either for the material or for us,” he said.

Grilled for over two hours during the dinner by media personalities who appeared unconvinced by Curtis’ repeated assurances regarding Lynas, the CEO could only offer his company’s pledge to adhere to the conditions attached to the two-year temporary operating licence (TOL) from Malaysia’s energy regulator, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB).

Among the most significant condition that Curtis highlighted was Lynas’s signed undertaking that it would submit a detailed plan for a permanent disposal facility (PDF) for waste, within 10 months of receiving the TOL.

“We have said, ‘Okay, fine, we are happy to comply’. No problem to determine a plant (for disposal)… it is not an expensive plan. It will take time but it is manageable,” he said.

“We have obligations to our licence with the AELB to study the issue and come up with a definitive plan for the disposal facility.”

But Curtis said that setting up the waste facility at such an early stage was an “unusual” practice as, in most cases, the rehabilitation of a site would only be carried out at the tail end of the refinery’s lifespan.

“Today, we are asked to deal with the possible rehabilitation of the site, which will still be active in 40 to 50 years.

“But that’s okay; if that’s what’s required, we will do that, but it is unusual in industrial terms,” he said.


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