KUALA LUMPUR – (AFP) – Australia’s Lynas Corp. said Tuesday it would recycle the by-products from its controversial rare earths plant into export goods after host Malaysia ordered the miner to remove its waste from the country.
Lynas began processing rare earths — used in everything from missiles to mobile phones — at the $800 million plant in eastern Pahang state last month despite protests from environmental groups and residents worried about radioactive residue.
Four cabinet ministers — covering trade, science, natural resources and health — said in a joint statement late Monday that a temporary licence granted to Lynas required it to remove “all the residue” from the plant out of Malaysia.
“The obligation imposed on Lynas in this matter is very clear. The government will not compromise the health and safety of the people and the environment in dealing with the issue of Lynas,” they said.
If Lynas fails to comply, the government can suspend or revoke the licence and order it “to immediately cease operation”, the ministers warned.
They said Lynas must ship out all residue, including products made from it.
The statement follows local media reports that quoted a top Lynas official in Malaysia as saying it would not remove the waste as it needed to abide by international conventions, which prohibit the export of hazardous wastes.
Lynas, which Tuesday placed its shares in a trading halt on the Australian Securities Exchange, said in a statement that it would recycle residues into products that could be exported.
“Lynas will ensure that all residue material that is the source of concern to the Malaysian public will be converted into co-products and exported from Malaysia if the co-products are not approved for use,” it said in a statement.
The firm said its temporary operating licence remained valid and there was no legal impediment to its plants operations.
It said its obligations were to undertake R&D on the commercialisation, recycling and re-use of residue materials and to submit plans for a permanent disposal facility, adding it was confident of meeting the required conditions.
In November, Lynas cleared a final hurdle when a court gave the go-ahead for the company to fire up. Activists are challenging that court decision with a hearing scheduled for next week, but operations have started.
The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) is set to become one of few sites outside China to process rare earths. The metals, imported from Australia, are used in high-tech equipment.
Residents, activists and opposition leaders have staged numerous protests against the plant, saying it would release radioactive gases and solid waste such as radium and lead, and small amounts of uranium, into the environment.
Lynas has insisted that any radioactive waste would be low-level and not harmful and that it will safely dispose of it.