22 May 2011

Lynas says paid Putrajaya for toxic waste cover

By Debra Chong 

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — Lynas Corp has revealed it deposited money with Putrajaya as an indemnity for potentially dangerous residue that may result from processing its radioactive rare earths in its Pahang plant, which is now under review.

However, Lynas did not elaborate on the deposit. It also did not disclose the sum paid to the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) under the purview of the science, technology and innovation ministry in charge of approving and monitoring radioactive industries.

“Lynas has also agreed to place funds with the Malaysian government to ensure safe management of any remaining residues as required by the AELB,” the Australian miner told The Malaysian Insider in a statement.

But AELB’s director-general Datuk Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan denied his agency had made the deposit a requirement.

“It’s got nothing to do with AELB. You got to check with Mida. Check with MITI,” he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.

The Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) had successfully pulled Lynas to set up shop here after China — the world’s biggest rare earths producer — closed its doors to foreign firms to maintain its 97 per cent chokehold on the global rare earths market.

In recent weeks, green groups here and in Australia have been lobbying their respective governments to nix the project ahead of Lynas’s September start, citing the company’s opaque plans on waste, storage and transport management across 3,000km from the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia to the Gebeng refinery.

Lynas has repeatedly stressed it is committed to safety and transparency.

In the same statement, the company refuted claims its rare earths cargo breached Australian safety laws and accused naysayers of having personal and political agendas to thwart its business plans.

Lynas is among the world’s biggest suppliers of rare earths, a group of minerals vital in the manufacture of high technology goods that is eco-friendly but creates toxic by-products in the process.

Its RM700 million refinery being built in Gebeng on Malaysia’s east coast is touted to be the world’s largest and most sophisticated upon completion.

“To be clear, the Mount Weld rare earth concentrate is not classified as Dangerous Goods by the criteria of the Australian Dangerous Goods Code (ADG Code) for transport by road or rail, and is not classified as Dangerous Goods for transport by sea (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code 2006),” Lynas said in response to the mounting criticism.

It added that Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had given it the thumbs-up to move its export cargo from Mount Weld to Fremantle port in June 2009.

“The EPA concluded that there was no radiation risk to public health or to the environment,” it said.

Lynas also rubbished comparisons between its operation and that of Magellan Metals that was forced to shut down its shipping operation after its lead cargo was found to have leaked toxins on route.

“The Lynas rare earths concentrate has been irresponsibly compared to lead carbonate concentrate. There can be no comparison between the two.

“Magellan’s lead carbonate concentrate is a toxic material classified as a dangerous good. The Lynas rare earths concentrate is not classified as a dangerous good,” it said.

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