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New twist in Lynas' plans in Malaysian plant
Australian firm Lynas says its application to ship waste material from its rare mineral processing plant in Malaysia to Australia are on hold.

Australian firm Lynas says its application to ship waste material from its rare mineral processing plant in Malaysia to Australia are on hold. The firm says its found commercial use for the material.

Kate Arnott reports.
HON KAI PING, PAHANG BAR CHAIRMAN: As far as I'm concerned, I believe that Australia, wanting to be part of Asia, should exercise more responsible to its neighbours.

(Footage of protesters)

CLEMENT CHIN, HIMPUNAN HIJAU: We are going to marshal the people together for these blockade to stop the ore from reaching our Malaysian shores at Kuantan Port.

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: It's been mired in controversy for years. But Lynas Corporation's rare earths plant, near the port city of Kuantan in eastern Malaysia, is possibly just weeks away from firing up.

Malaysian authorities have finally granted Lynas a two year temporary operating licence to process rare earth minerals, shipped from its mine in Western Australia.

The resulting product will be used to make high tech equipment from smartphones and TVs, to wind turbines and missiles.

(Footage of anti-Lynas protests)

Lynas might have won over authorities but it has a lot of work to do to convince its many Malaysian detractors.

PROTESTERS (chanting): Stop Lynas! Stop Lynas!

KATE ARNOTT: Now anti Lynas campaigners are promising to paralyse the port of Kuantan to try to stop the company bringing in the rare earths ore.

CLEMENT CHIN: We are now identifying 100 prominent personalities across the nation, and they will stand together with us, and we will all converge near Kuantan Port and we will block the port until the ore returns to Australia.

KATE ARNOTT: A Lynas spokesman says such a blockade would be illegal.

CLEMENT CHIN: We have been pushed to the back of the wall now. And it is only the people's power that will determine their fate and their destiny.

KATE ARNOTT: Activists say they're worried radioactive waste from the plant could leak into the ground and water. Lynas, though, insists the operation is safe and complying with international standards.

ERIC NOYREZ, LYANS PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER (on Lateline, June 2012): The plant and the project has been designed for being as good as a refinery mineral processing or any type of other industry. So our target is certainly to explain that, but more than just explaining, as soon as we start to demonstrate it every single day.

KATE ARNOTT: The chief executive officer of Lynas Corporation, Nick Curtis, was unavailable for an interview this week. But in July he spoke to a resource and energy online news service to explain why the Malaysian Government was delaying final approval for the rare earths plant.

NICK CURTIS, CEO, LYNAS CORPORATION (on PROEDGE Wire, July): They just hit a political road block on the way through. We hit a very significant politicisation of an issue in Malaysia by opposition spokesmen.

And that of course caused them to stop and heads teat and they say what do you the Malaysian people really think and how do we convince the Malaysian people that this is a perfectly safe operation?

HON KAI PING: As far as we are concerned there is a lack of transparency and consultation with the people and a lot of questions still remains in the minds.

KATE ARNOTT: Lawyers for Kuantan residents point to concerns about what will happen to the waste the plant produces.

HON KAI PING: I was under the impression that you must get the PDF, the permanent disposable facility, or at least the location and the plans approved before you can even allow the plant to operate. But today there is no location, no blue print for such a facility.

KATE ARNOTT: In granting the two year operating licence to Lynas, Malaysia's atomic energy licensing board found the company had met all technical and regulatory requirements. But it also said Lynas had committed itself to removing waste out of Malaysia.

ATOMIC ENERGY LICENSING BOARD STATEMENT (Read): The management and removal of residue is an integral part of the temporary and operating license conditions and agreements ... it is legally binding and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board will enforce it.

KATE ARNOTT: Asia Pacific Focus has now learned that Lynas had at one stage considered bringing what it calls co products back to Australia.

LYNAS CORPORATION SPOKESMAN (Read Statement): The co-products are not classified as radioactive or as dangerous goods.

KATE ARNOTT: Yet Lynas did make an application to Australia's Radiation Protection And Nuclear Safety Agency, or ARPANSA.

ARPANSA SPOKESMAN (Read statement): Lynas has submitted an application to import material from Malaysia. As the responsible authority, ARPANSA is seeking additional information from Lynas on the application.

KATE ARNOTT: A spokesman for the agency couldn't disclose any more information about the application, but did point out that it’s long standing government policy for Australia not to accept radioactive waste from other countries.

When Asia Pacific Focus asked Lynas about the application, a spokesman said the company put it on hold a number of months ago because commercial uses for the waste had been found.

SCOTT LUDLAM, GREENS SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: It looks as though the company is designing its process on the run. I think there will always be some waste. No matter what the mining operation, there will always be products that the company won't have a marketable use for.

KATE ARNOTT: The main waste from the plant will be gypsum, which contains no levels of naturally occurring radioactive material. The company says it plans to store the material at the Malaysian site short term, reduce the radiation to close to zero, then turn it into products like road base for export.

SCOTT LUDLAM: At the moment, they appear to be stalemated by regulators in both countries who won't necessarily allow the trans-shipment of radioactive waste. So that is the open question. That is the question on which this whole project now hinges.

KATE ARNOTT: Lynas claims a lot of misinformation is being spread about the rare earths plant. And it's suing several protesters from the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group for defamation. Activists are taking legal action of their own in the Malaysian courts to try to stop the plant.

As well, a legal challenge is being prepared in Australia. And, if the blockade goes ahead, Lynas is in for a bumpy ride over the next few months.
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