International trade minister wants to keep Lynas investment, but wants rules followed

Ida Lim

Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking said the Lynas experience in Malaysia should not be seen as a deterrent to investors but as an encouragement on the need for compliance with rules. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — Foreign businesses such as Australian miner Lynas must follow the rules when doing business in Malaysia, International Trade and Industry Minister Darell Leiking said.

He said the Lynas experience in Malaysia should not be seen as a deterrent to investors but as an encouragement on the need for compliance with rules for everyone’s sake, Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

“We follow the rules and the law,” he told the Australian paper.

“Lynas... has invested billions into Malaysia, we are not going to hurt any investment but we want them to follow the rules,” he was quoted saying.

Lynas has been operating a rare earth refinery in Kuantan, Pahang since 2012, and has over the years faced protests including renewed objections recently before and when the Malaysian government granted it a six-month extension from September 3. Lynas’ operating licence was due to expire on September 2.

Before giving Lynas the extension, Putrajaya had in December initially demanded that the company ship out waste with low-levels of radioactivity-produced at the rare earth plant in Pahang and totalling 451,564 metric tonnes by then — out of Malaysia as a condition for its licence renewal.

Following Australia’s refusal to accept the waste, the Malaysian government then asked Lynas to make plans for a permanent disposal facility within Malaysia for the radioactive waste or alternatively to seek approval from foreign authorities to send the waste abroad, setting it as part of the three conditions for a six-month operating extension.

In the same report, Leiking noted the objection to Lynas’ continued operations in Malaysia, saying: “We have tried to appease the calls for removing Lynas and at the same time ensure that investment such as Lynas will not be compromised.”

While saying that the Pakatan Harapan government may suffer the same fate of being criticised, Leiking said it was “firm in keeping our decision on that investment”.

He said several states in Malaysia had shown interest in being the location for the permanent disposal facility for Lynas’ waste.

As of December 4, 2018, Lynas’ accumulated waste from 2012 totalled 451,564 metric tonnes of radioactive Water Leached Purification Residue (WLP) and 1.113 million metric tonnes of scheduled waste Neutralisation Underflow Residue. 

The WLP produced has naturally-occurring radioactive material at a level of 6.2 Bq/g, which is above Malaysia’s limits of 1 Bq/g. The becquerel denotes the unit of nuclear disintegration happening per second.

By August 15, 2019 when Malaysian authority Atomic Energy Licensing Board granted Lynas the conditional six-month extension, the radioactive WLP accumulated had increased to over 580,000 metric tonnes of radioactive WLP.

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