Lynas Malaysia loses bid to operate part of rare earth plant

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Lynas Malaysia loses bid to operate part of rare earth plant A view of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in Gebeng, Pahang, Malaysia, July 23, 2019.
[Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

The Malaysian government has turned down a request by rare earth miner Lynas to continue operating a part of its facility in the country after July 1, saying it failed to stop generating radioactive waste.

Still, the government renewed the firm’s license for its other rare earth processing operations for another three years.

Activists had said four years ago that while Lynas’ then-U.S. $800 million Malaysian plant broke China’s near-monopoly on processing elements vital for defense and aerospace industries, some of its activities left behind radioactive waste.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang said the government in 2020 set terms with Lynas that activities producing such waste would not be carried out at its Malaysia plant in Gebeng, Pahang, after July 2023.

“There is no element of surprise here because these conditions are the same conditions since 2020. They’re well aware of the conditions,” Chang told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

Lynas extracts rare earth ore from Australia and sends it for processing at its Malaysian facility in the state of Pahang.

Changg said that since 2012, Lynas had produced about 1.08 million metric tons of radioactive waste in Malaysia, referred to as WLP (water leach purification) residue. This amount is expected to reach 1.2 million metric tons by July.

“We are still allowing them to operate. We are only asking them to close down the cracking and leaching plant,” Chang said, adding activities that do not involve the production of radioactive waste are allowed to continue.

Environmentalist Mageswari Sangaralingam of the NGO Friends of the Earth Malaysia said the government’s decision on Lynas was sound.

“It was good for the current government to refrain from giving in to pressure to revoke the conditions imposed regarding shifting the cracking and leaching process outside Malaysia,” she told BenarNews.

Critical for defense

Lynas, which was informed of the decision on Monday, said it was disappointed and would appeal.

“We will proceed with administrative and legal appeals to ensure that Lynas is treated fairly and equitably as a Foreign Direct Investor and a significant employer and contributor to the Malaysian economy,” Amanda Lacaze, Lynas CEO and managing director, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian minister said the government was committed to creating a business-friendly environment and understood the importance of the rare earth industry.

“However, no party has the right to continuously produce radioactive waste in our homeland,” Chang said.

 Rare earths – 17 minerals such as cerium, lanthanum and neodymium – are used in electronics and objects such as jet-fighter engines, Tomahawk cruise missiles and space-based satellites. smartphones.

China controls 80% of rare earth production. Lynas is the world’s largest rare-earth producer outside of China.

With tensions running high between Washington and Beijing, the supply of rare earths to the United States and its allies is critical.

Reuters news agency reported that Malaysia’s decision on Lynas raised the prospect of an interruption to the supply later this year of neodymium and praseodymium, which are in magnets used in everything from iPhones to weapons systems.


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