KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — The Green Party called yesterday for the Western Australian government to force rare earth miner Lynas Corp to ensure that the raw material it plans to process in Kuantan will be free from radiation.
Robin Chapple, a member of the Western Australian legislative council, said that no thorium, the radioactive element found in virtually all rare earth deposits, should leave Lynas’ Mount Weld mine located in the state.
“The premier must take action to compel Lynas to ensure that no thorium leaves the Mt Weld mine site,” said the state Greens spokesman on nuclear and waste management.
He said the state’s head of government Colin Barnett has stated repeatedly that no uranium should be exported from Western Australia.
“I would hope that he does not want to also be complicit in the dumping of radioactive waste in another country,” Chapple (picture) said.
The move applies pressure on the state government to step in as it also faces calls to revoke the licence of lead miner Magellan after excess amounts of the heavy metal was found caked onto a shipping container last week, forcing it to halt shipments for a third time.
Malaysian environmentalists and residents living near the RM700 million plant in the Gebeng industrial zone have raised questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste being produced and stored at the plant.
Lynas has assured critics that its Mount Weld mine Down Under was one of three unique sites with rare earth deposits containing very low amounts of thorium and should not be compared to the last rare earth plant in Malaysia in Bukit Merah.
Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the plant is still being cleaned up at a cost of RM303 million and has been linked to at least eight cases of leukaemia, seven resulting in death.
“I am deeply worried that the proposed Lynas Mount Weld operation plans to remove only the bare minimum of thorium from its rare earth product, apparently so as not to trigger special export licence requirements for hazardous material,” Chapple said.
Lynas has said its concentrated ore is not considered radioactive by the Australian government, having only 0.16 per cent thorium content.
The member of Western Australia’s upper legislative house said that PKR’s Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh “has called for any thorium refined from the exported material to be returned to Australia.”
But the Western Australian government said this week it will not take back the Lynas radioactive waste, stating that it does not support the importation and storage of “other countries’ radioactive waste.”
“Perhaps because of this, the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board has yet to receive a pre-operation licence application from Lynas Corporation,” Chapple said.
Lynas expects to receive a preliminary operating licence from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) before September which will be renewed as a full licence after three years should the plant comply to agreed standards.
The company hopes the plant will bring in RM8 billion annually from 2013 based on the refined metals’ current prices, when it will produce one-third of the world’s demand outside of China.