Australian miner Lynas Corp gets green light for its controversial rare earth plant in Malaysia

(Xinhua) – Malaysian regulators have paved the way for Australian miner Lynas Corporation to fire up its controversial rare earth plant on Wednesday by issuing a temporary operation license, despite fierce opposition from green activists and local residents.

Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board said in a statement on Wednesday that the license was issued since Lynas had met all the requirements.

“The Board … is satisfied that Lynas has fulfilled all technical aspects, including the institution of dust control measures and radioactivity immobilization methodologies in its residue management system, and all regulatory requirements.”

The temporary operation license would be effective for two years, enabling Lynas to conduct trial processing of lanthanide concentrates in stages and in limited quantities “under close and continuous surveillance by the authorities,” the statement said.

Lynas confirmed the issuance of the license, saying its refinery in Kuantan, capital city of Malaysia’s central Pahang state, is expected to commence the transport of rare earth concentrate into the country and begin operations in October.

“Receiving this license from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board is a significant milestone for Lynas,” Lynas Executive Chairman Nicholas Curtis said in a statement.

The temporary license would be converted into a full operating license over the next two years if the company complies with safety standards, he added.

The rare earth plant, first of its kind outside of China, could produce metals worth more than 91 billion U.S. dollars a year that are used in making green technology products like wind turbine, mobile phones and flat screen television.

However, the 100-hectare, 235-million-U.S. dollar refinery was met by fierce protests by environmental activists and residents for fear over possible radioactive contamination.

Over 10,000 people staged a large-scale protest in Kuantan in February, before joining the electoral reform rally in Kuala Lumpur in April, which saw police firing tear gas and water canon to disperse the crowd.

The widespread public anger has forced the ruling coalition, which is facing the crucial general election soon, to hold the temporary operation license that it had agreed to grant.

Nevertheless, a parliamentary select committee came to a conclusion in June that “scientific facts” had proven the safety of the plant, clearing maybe the last hurdle for Lynas.

Several anti-Lynas groups have condemned the decision of the regulator soon after the issuance of the license.

Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) chairman Tan Bun Teet told an online news portal that he was not surprised with the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s decision, which he described as “very unprofessional, unethical, and maybe even illegal.”

He said his group would seek an injunction to freeze the license.

Lynas said regulators would monitor if the plant’s operations, as well as its safety standards was in accordance with all Malaysian regulations and international conventions.

Meanwhile, the refinery would also process waste into co- products that could be exported from Malaysia to address the concern of public over the disposal of the waste, the company said.