Wednesday 19 June 2019

SMSL/PSHK Press statement

Lynas is Responsible for the Toxic Heavy metal Groundwater Contamination
19th June 2019

Today, SMSL under the registered name of its parent body, Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan (PSHK), has lodged a police report in response to the serious groundwater contamination as evidenced from data revealed in the report of the Executive Review Committee on Lynas released last December, review of DoE documents and water sampling tests carried out by SMSL since 2016.

Mr Tan Bun Teet, chairman of SMSL said, “Polluting our environment, especially the ground water is an act of crime. Since our regulators have not taken any action and have flaunted their own regulations despite data clearly showing otherwise, we have no choice but to act in the interest of our community and for our country.”

Mr Tan is supported by legal adviser, Mr Hon Kai Ping with the lodgement. Mr Hon explained, ”Contamination of water course including ground water is an offence under the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA). In fact, Parliament has deemed it so serious that under section 121 of the WSIA, if the contamination results in death, the penalty may also be death.”

“The President of the Malaysian Bar has recently made a public statement on these issues (Press Statement attached). Water contamination is a national security issue and our authorities should take the report seriously.” Mr Hon added.

Under WSIA, any party found guilty by the court is subject to a hefty fine of RM500,000 or ten years jail term or both; or the death penalty if the contamination has caused deaths – see the relevant page attached.

Serious groundwater contamination from toxic heavy metals including nickel, lead, chromium and even mercury were evidenced from a set of groundwater data revealed in the ERC report in page 80 and 81.

Nickel, lead, chromium and mercury are all hazardous substances. Lead is particularly harmful to babies and children. World Health Organisation has warned that there is no safe exposure level of lead. For further details on the health hazards of these substances, please refer to the relevant attached documents for reference.

“We lodge the police report because we have waited for over a year since the change of government for the regulators to carry out their duty to enforce the law. Unfortunately, there has not been any improvement within the Department of Environment. They have done nothing to investigate the contamination and below standard wastewater discharged by Lynas. Instead they continue to sing Lynas praises in public at public forum and through the media.”

The contamination data are from Lynas own monitoring stations, surrounding its waste storage facility and its final wastewater discharge point. The maximum recorded contamination level of 96,110 µg/l was from Lynas’ sampling station near its final wastewater discharge point, labelled as GW13. This reading is over 1,200 times higher than the Dutch intervention level of 75 µg/l! That is about 10% of the WLP nickel concentration.

All the nickel data exceeded the Dutch legal limit of 75 µg/l. The few chromium data available in the Table - 31 µg/l to 266 µg/l - exceeded the Dutch intervention limit of 30 µg/l. Similarly, with the lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg) data. These are all toxic elements that will adversely affect our environment with serious implications for community health.

“When Lynas claimed that it has complied with the law, it is the law which DoE/JAS has bent for Lynas. As an Australian corporate entity, Lynas should adhere to the ASX Corporate Governance Principles – especially Principle 3 which requires that it acts ‘ethically and responsibly’ which goes ‘well beyond mere compliance with legal obligations and involves acting with honesty, integrity’ and ‘includes being, and being seen to be, a good corporate citizen, acting responsibly towards the environment.’”[1] Mr Hon added.

No other industry or business anywhere in Malaysia could get away with so much wastes piled up by its plant. With half a million tonnes of waste contaminated with radioactive materials and other toxic substances continuing to contaminate the environment.

The regulatory agency overseeing the Lynas’ environmental management is the Department of Environment or Jabatan Alam Sekitar (DoE/JAS). It is required through its mandated roles and responsibilities under the Environmental Quality Act 1974 to uphold the law and to enforce regulations stated under the Act of Parliament.

Mr Tan and Mr Hon reminded the Government, “Janji 39 of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto promises that all projects that affect the environment must stand up to the highest standards of environmental protection and that it follows international best practices. The Manifesto also castigated the previous BN administration and stated that the PH government would not bow to big companies and crony capitalism. We hope this would also not be the case here! The whole country is watching!”

For further comments, please contact:

· Mr Tan Bun Teet - Hp: +60 179 730 576

· Mr Hon Kai Ping - +60 112 544 7356


1. Map of groundwater monitoring stations

2. Water Services Industry Act – contamination of water course

3. Health hazards of toxic heavy metals

4. Lynas is responsible for the groundwater contamination


NGO lodges report against Lynas over groundwater pollution

Published: 19 Jun 2019, 5:41 pm | Modified: 19 Jun 2019, 5:41 pm

NGO Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas (SMSL) lodged a police report today claiming that Lynas Malaysia is responsible for groundwater pollution in the Gebeng area.

They said this is based on, among others, data revealed in the cabinet’s executive review committee report on the rare earth processing plant in Gebeng owned by Australian mining firm Lynas.

Other sources included Environment Department documents and water sampling tests carried out by SMSL since 2016.

"Since our regulators have not taken any action and have flouted their own regulations despite data clearly showing otherwise, we have no choice but to act in the interest of our community and for our country.

"We lodge the police report because we have waited for over a year since the change of government for the regulators to carry out their duty to enforce the law," SMSL chairperson Tan Bun Teet said in a statement after lodging the police report in Kuantan this morning.

"Unfortunately, there has not been any improvement within the Environment Department. They have done nothing to investigate the contamination and below-standard wastewater discharged by Lynas.

"Instead they continue to sing Lynas’ praises in public at public forums and through the media."

SMSL legal adviser Hon Kai Ping stated that contamination of water, including groundwater, is an offence under the Water Services Industry Act 2006.

“In fact, Parliament has deemed it so serious that under Section 121 of the act, if the contamination results in death, the penalty may also be death," he said.

Water contamination, Hon added, is a national security issue and the authorities should take the issue seriously.

"No other industry or business anywhere in Malaysia could get away with so much waste piled up by its plant," SMSL said.

Malaysiakini is contacting Lynas for their response.

Harapan's manifesto pledges

SMSL reminded the Pakatan Harapan government that its election manifesto promises that all projects affecting the environment must stand up to the highest standards of environmental protection and follow international best practices.

The manifesto also promised that the Harapan government would not bow to big companies and crony capitalism, the group said.

“We hope this would also not be the case here. The whole country is watching,” it added.

SMSL quoted from the executive review committee’s report, which said that the groundwater in the Gebeng area surrounding the Lynas plant was contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as nickel, lead, chromium and mercury.

However, in late May this year, Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar said the groundwater in Gebeng is no longer polluted by heavy metals.

“The latest tests that were done around the Lynas area gave us negative readings of heavy metals.

“This was done by my department and we did not find anything that is polluting in that area,” he had said.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry deputy secretary-general Nagulendran Kangayatkarasu said a day later that the spike in heavy metals in the groundwater around the Lynas plant in Gebeng did not originate from the facility.

It is now under permissible levels, he said.

Nagulendran said the spike noted by the cabinet review committee's report was a one-off incident, and the ministry is prepared to publish the data to show that the heavy metal levels have gone down.

He added although the source of the spike is still unknown, continuous monitoring has managed to rule out Lynas as a contributor.

Despite the deputy secretary-general's assertion that the ministry is ready to publish the findings, Nagulendran and the Environment Department have not responded to Malaysiakini's multiple requests for the data.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Lynas poses risk of another 80’s radioactive tragedy, says green group

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has warned of a repeat of the Bukit Merah tragedy if the government exempts Lynas Malaysia from laws to control radioactive waste.

Jehan Bakar, who heads the Pahang chapter of MNS, said the people of Kuantan were at risk of suffering the kind of contamination that affected the people of Bukit Merah in the 1980s.

Large amounts of thorium hydroxide were discovered in 1984 in Papan, a village just outside Bukit Merah. Investigations revealed that the radioactive waste originated from a rare earth factory set up in 1979.

Children in the area were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. Clinical tests found that some of them had cancer and auto-immune diseases.

“Do we never learn from history?” said Jehan.

“Lynas needs to clean up its act. Otherwise it will be Bukit Merah all over again.”

She alleged that Lynas was in violation of a licensing regulation requiring it to dispose of radioactive waste within a year of its production.

“It has five to six years’ worth of waste behind its plant now,” she told FMT. “Why is it getting special treatment?”

She said Lynas, “with more than one billion tonnes of waste aged more than 180 days” stored behind the factory, was defying the Environmental Quality Regulations (Scheduled Waste) of 2005, which limits the quantity to 20 tonnes and the storage period to 180 days.

“They get 12 years of tax relief, and they get to flout our laws,” she added.

She rejected Lynas’ proposal for the recycling of the waste, saying it should not be used in public areas because of its radioactive nature.

Jehan also alleged that the Department of Environment was not doing its job as a protector of the environment. “It’s more of an enabler or accessory to a corporation.”

She urged the people of Kuantan to refuse to let others decide what would be in their backyard, and voiced support for Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh for her consistent statement against allowing Lynas to continue operating in the country.

Another environmentalist, Anthony Tan, described the waste from the Lynas plant as a ticking bomb.

“It may take five years, it may take 100 years for health signs to manifest, but radioactive waste is radioactive waste,” he said.

Asked to comment on suggestions that the waste be used as fertiliser, he said Australia, Lynas’ home country, should take the lead.

“Let them use the fertiliser widely in Australia first,” he said.

Last month, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia would allow Lynas to keep operating its rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, which lies on the outskirts of Kuantan.

The prime minister’s statement removed the uncertainty over the future of the US$800 million plant after Malaysia halted the process for renewal of its licence.

Fuziah: Lynas not in the clear over dangerous residue just yet

Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd is not in the clear over producing dangerous residue just yet, according to Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh.

Fuziah said this is because groundwater contamination detection requires a "protracted, regular and technically reliable independent monitoring strategy".

"A conclusion can only be made with a high level of statistical confidence based on multiple and repeated samples taken across seasons to adjust for possible seasonal effects," she said in a statement today.

"This kind of pollution has very serious public and environmental health implications in the long run."

Fuziah was responding to Lynas claiming last week that its critics were proven wrong in saying that its Gebeng operations produced a dangerous residue.

This followed Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar saying last month that the groundwater around the Lynas plant is no longer polluted by heavy metals.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry deputy secretary-general Nagulendran Kangayatkarasu also said the spike in heavy metal readings in the groundwater around the Gebeng plant did not originate from Lynas.

"These statements are consistent with Lynas Malaysia's own groundwater monitoring and analysis," the company insisted.

In her statement, Fuziah said Lynas has persistently denied that its operations have caused serious heavy metal contamination – even when data taken over a 12-month period from September 2015 from its own groundwater monitoring stations have shown otherwise.

“Of course, Lynas would never have admitted to the contamination, because if it does, then it will be liable for this pollution.

"As a speculative rare earth junior mining company, its future lies in its ability to mask the real problems it is facing in Malaysia," she said.

"Simply branding people who have raised concerns about its pollution and waste as activists underestimates the many experts from different fields whom I have met over the years.

"These are highly skilled educated professionals with post-graduate qualifications from various reputable universities in Malaysia and from advanced industrialised countries overseas.

"They have given their pro bono professional advice out of their sense of duty to the country and for our rakyat and because they feel that Malaysia deserves the truth and environmental justice."

Fuziah also pointed out that Lynas' waste contains naturally occurring radioactive materials (Norm), which is considered radioactive in Australia.

“Many poisons are naturally occurring also, and if any of it is released into our environment or our body, we will be poisoned.

"The same logic can be applied to Lynas’ Norm waste," she said.

Thursday 6 June 2019

Lynas, a betrayal of trust

Dennis Ignatius
- June 7, 2019 10:00 AM

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent announcement in Tokyo that “Lynas will be allowed to carry on” regardless of whether the Australian company removes its radioactive waste from Malaysia came as a shock and disappointment to many Malaysians. Instead of insisting that Lynas remove the more than 450,000 tonnes of dangerous waste it has accumulated thus far in Gebeng (in violation of local regulations), Mahathir generously gave the company a free pass by offering to “spread” the waste around Malaysia!

It is, by all counts, a stunning betrayal and a shameful capitulation to Australian pressure. It prioritises profits ahead of the health of ordinary Malaysians and recklessly endangers our environment. Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the sterling efforts of our environment minister to ensure that Malaysia does not become Australia’s garbage dump.

People before profit

Mahathir’s main argument is that Malaysia cannot afford to lose the huge investment that Lynas represents; the more critical issue, however, is whether Malaysia can afford the huge health and environmental risks that Lynas clearly poses.

Lynas should never have been allowed to set up shop in Malaysia in the first place. If it was such a great project, why didn’t Lynas build its plant in Australia itself where the rare earth ores are mined?

Is it mere coincidence that the company chose to locate their hazardous processing facility in a country with less onerous environmental regulations than their own, with less effective enforcement and with a political system that can be easily manipulated?

It is telling (as Wong Tack, the MP for Bentong, pointed out in his recent letter to the Australian high commissioner), that since setting up shop here, Lynas has violated a whole range of environmental regulations from storing radioactive waste in the open to storing more than the permissible amount of dangerous waste. And yet, our regulators and politicians continue to bend over backwards to appease them. No wonder they love it here!

Whichever way you look at it, the growing stockpile of radioactive waste is a ticking time bomb; the longer it remains in Malaysia, the greater the danger it poses. It is simply irresponsible to allow such massive quantities of dangerous material to accumulate without a clear and safe plan for its disposal.

Of course, Lynas likes to tout the potential commercialisation of its waste including its application to enhance crop productivity and in construction. Its claims are, however, premature at best; no one really knows the long-term impact of using recycled radioactive waste in agriculture. Again, if it is such a great breakthrough, Lynas should test it out in Australia itself instead of using the people of Malaysia as their guinea pigs.

Absurd and flippant

Given the enormous risks involved, Mahathir’s suggestion to “spread [the radioactive waste] around somewhere so as not to have concentrated radioactive material in one place” is flippant, outrageous and ill-conceived. Where does he plan to spread the waste anyway? In Langkawi? Or perhaps a site might be found in Putrajaya, leadership by example and all that.

And, by offering the Australians a way out ahead of scheduled negotiations on the issue, Mahathir has undercut the efforts of his own environment minister to persuade Australian authorities to accept the waste. Why would Australia, which has always been reluctant to accept back the waste, now want to do so when Mahathir has made it clear that the company’s licence will be renewed regardless? Indeed, Australian authorities are now saying that Minister Yeo Bee Yin would be “wasting her time” visiting Australia to discuss the matter.

Another toxic legacy?

In 1982, another foreign rare earth manufacturer (Mitsubishi Chemical Industries) came in with all the right assurances, telling us how safe and wonderful their operations would be and how great it would be for the economy, only to leave behind a mammoth radioactive mess we are still dealing with decades after the plant closed.

Our politicians and regulators then were taken in by all those assurances; the people of Bukit Merah ended up paying a high price for their folly with leukaemia and birth defects. We must not make the same mistake again. The Bukit Merah disaster took place under Mahathir’s first term as prime minister; he must not leave another toxic legacy behind for future generations.

Every Malaysian who cares about our environment and the health and well-being of future generations must strenuously oppose this inane and insane decision by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to allow Lynas to continue operating in Malaysia regardless of whether it removes its radioactive waste. The removal of every last ounce of Lynas’ toxic waste from our country as well as full and immediate compliance with all our environmental and health regulations should be non-negotiable. If PH cannot defend our rights, they no longer deserve our support.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Sunday 2 June 2019

Yeo clarifies Dr M’s remarks on Lynas, stresses waste must be shipped out

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — Minister Yeo Bee Yin today has clarified that Australian rare earth refiner Lynas Corp will still have to resolve the issue of radioactive waste produced at its plant in Pahang before it is allowed to continue operations.

Yeo, who is minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, clarified the reported remarks made by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Japan yesterday regarding the Lynas plant.

Yeo suggested that the reports on Dr Mahathir’s remarks may not have focused on his actual stand on the matter.

“Actually today I saw the (video) clip of Dr Mahathir’s interview, then I realised actually his position is, Lynas has to ship out its waste, his answer was very long, most of the time he was talking about waste, but unexpectedly the focus was blurred, so actually the government is still very concerned about the issue of waste,” she said in an interview during 8TV’s Global Watch programme last night.

In the interview that was conducted in Mandarin, Yeo also revealed that the Cabinet had on Wednesday decided to have her meet with Australian government officials to have face-to-face talks regarding the Lynas issue.

“Yesterday, the Cabinet decided to let me go personally to Australia,” she said, adding that Malaysia is awaiting a response from Australia for the scheduling of meeting date.

Noting that both Australia’s federal and state ministers have the power to issue permits required for the shipping of wastes back to the country, Yeo said she would be meeting with the relevant state minister.

When asked to confirm that the government has yet to decide on allowing Lynas to continue operations in Malaysia, Yeo said: “I think this will have to wait for me to come back from Australia, then only there can be a report and to let the Cabinet to decide.”

“To me, most importantly, the waste issue has to be resolved because everyone’s concern is how the waste issue will be resolved,” she added.

Yesterday, Dr Mahathir was reported as saying that the government will renew Lynas’ operating licence in Malaysia.

In the interview late last night, Yeo also explained the importance of dealing with the waste produced by the Lynas plant in Gebeng, Pahang.

“Now we must work hard to get the waste shipped out, because if the waste is not shipped out, the safer way to deal with it is a permanent disposal facility in a land, after closing it, this land will permanently be unusable.

“Tun Mahathir, when he was in Japan, he also spoke about this, about cracking and leaching, he also spoke about it,” she said.

She noted that Malaysia and China are the only two countries in the world with rare earth refineries due to environmental protection laws elsewhere, highlighting Malaysia’s unique position globally of having a rare earth refinery with materials shipped in.

“So now we also hope to learn from China’s experience, how do they deal with this waste, because it’s not from our country,” she said.

“Outside of China, Malaysia is actually the only one to have rare earth refinery.

“When the previous government agreed, they actually did not think the waste produced would be so much and they agreed,” she said when noting why the previous administration under Barisan Nasional approved the setting up of the Lynas plant in Pahang.

Yeo said that Malaysia would like all rare earth refiners including Lynas to separate their refining process, with the process that produces radioactive waste to be first done in their home country.

“The first process is cracking and leaching, that should be done at the mining place and the radioactive waste be kept at the mine. And the intermediate, the clean one, can be shipped here to be refined, that way, the waste produced by all refinery plants in Malaysia won’t be this. This is something we must have as a condition,” she said.

When asked again if there would still be possible changes in the matter of Lynas’ operating licence renewal, Yeo said: “If they want to renew their licence, they must quickly solve the problem, they must ensure their future refining will not have radioactive materials.”

Shipping back waste a pre- condition

KUANTAN: The shipping back of radioactive waste produced by Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd (Lynas), is a pre-condition for the renewal of its operating licence, said Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh.She said this stand was made by Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who issued a clear directive that Lynas must send the waste to the country of origin which is Australia. “I also was made to understand that Yeo will go to Australia in mid-June to discuss the return of the radioactive waste from the Lynas Plant in Gebeng, Pahang. “Malaysians should give space to the minister to find a way to realise the pre-condition, and the people should continue to pressure Lynas to be responsible for its radioactive waste, without any compromise,” Fuziah, who is also Kuantan MP, said in a statement here Friday.

She stressed Lynas should uphold their written agreement in 2012 to return the waste to Australia. Fuziah was of the opinion that the media did not report on the statement by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Japan yesterday in detail but resorted to sensationalism. “The media only reported a part of the Prime Minister’s speech, which touched on the investment and licensing aspect only, without linking it to the radioactive waste,” she said.

At the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo yesterday, Dr. Mahathir said Malaysia will allow Australia’s rare earth plant, Lynas Corp, to continue operating in the country. The Prime Minister’s announcement ended uncertainties that have bogged down the future of the US$800 million (RM3.35 billion) Lynas plant in Gebeng, following a temporary suspension on its operating licence renewal. – Bernama

Aussie firm drops Lynas takeover bid, says report

PETALING JAYA: An Australian conglomerate, Wesfarmers, is reported to have dropped a takeover bid for the controversial rare earths mineral producer Lynas Corporation, according to a news report.

The Australian newspaper, quoting sources, said Wesfarmers had walked away from the deal, although the company had indicated it remains a suitor.

News of the Wesfarmers decision comes a week after Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad hinted that Lynas would be able to continue operating its controversial processing plant in Kuantan beyond the expiry of its licence in September.

In March, Wesfarmers had made a hostile bid, offering A$2.25 per share for Lynas, subject to renewal of the Lynas licence. The deal was worth A$1.5 billion (RM4.4 billion). The Lynas board had rebuffed the offer.

Since Mahathir’s announcement, Lynas share prices have soared in Australia, closing at A$3.05 on Friday, way above the Wesfarmers offer.

Also helping the share price higher was the chance that China would cut off its exports of rare earths to the US amid rising trade tensions between the two, the report said.

Besides the Lynas bid, Wesfarmers had also approached the Malaysian government about solutions for disposing of waste at the plant by transporting it to Australia, and made an attempt to buy another rare earths producer, Kidman Resources, for A$776 million, the report said.

Why Lynas’ radioactive wastes should not be recycled and ‘spread out’ in the Malaysian general environment — Chan Chee Khoon

MAY 31 — At the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) on May 30, 2019, Tun Dr Mahathir made perhaps unscripted remarks about ‘spreading out’ the radioactive solid wastes from Lynas’ rare earths refinery at Gebeng, presumably to re-dilute its radioactive content closer down to baseline (background) radioactivity levels.

From the epidemiological (population health) perspective, this is not advisable, and here’s the reason why.

The 2006 US National Academy of Sciences Biologic Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VII report is an authoritative source which endorses the linear no-threshold (LNT) model of a linear and causal relationship between ionizing radiation and human cancer risk. The LNT model accepts that radiation at all levels confer proportionate risk of cancer and explicitly excludes a threshold below which radiogenic cancer risk disappears. In simple language, cancer risk doesn’t vanish to zero, even at very low (close to zero) doses of radiation.

The way epidemiologists and radiation safety specialists calculate the expected number of radiation-caused cancers of, say leukemia, is to multiply the dose by the expected number of leukemia cases per unit dose in the dose-response relationship of the LNT model.

The BEIR VII report has done that for the US population.

The current allowable radiation exposure endorsed by International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is 1 mSv per year above natural background levels, for the general public. (The average dose worldwide from natural background radiation is approximately 2.4 mSv per year

The BEIR VII report estimates that a lifetime cumulative dose of 100mSv would cause an additional 100 leukemia cases from a population of 100,000 males. In the absence of radiation exposure, the lifetime tally of leukemia cases (from other causes) would be 830. In other words, the lifetime risk of leukemia is increased by about 12 percent as a result of lifetime radiation doses accumulated from exposures at levels close to the current allowable limits. The corresponding figures for females are 70/590, i.e. a similar 12 percent increase in risk of leukemia

For this reason, it is little comfort to know that if Lynas’ radioactive solid wastes are recycled as ingredients for road base, cement and other construction materials, fertilizers, Condisoil, etc and ‘spread out’, communities nationwide will be incrementally exposed to low-level radiation at doses comparable to background exposures.

Western Australia's Mines, Petroleum, Energy and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston in effect conceded as much when he said: "Generally speaking, the best place for contaminated material is where it comes from, which in this case would be in the mine void [i.e. sequestered away from possibility of human exposures], but we are not going to take mine waste back from overseas”.

We urgently need Tun Dr Mahathir’s recalcitrant streak.

*Prof Dr Chan Chee Khoon is a consultant and health policy analyst at the Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said Malaysia must look to alternative means of dealing with the buildup of Lynas waste should negotiations for Australia to take it back fail.

He suggested “spreading” out the Water Leach Purification (WLP) waste from the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Kuantan, instead of letting it concentrate in one area.

WLP waste comprises residue that contains naturally occurring radioactive material.

“Since Lynas produces radioactive material, we wanted them to ship out the radioactive material, back to the country where the raw material comes from, but the country doesn't want to accept it. But we are going to talk to them.

“But if we fail, we need to do something with the raw material, maybe spreading it somewhere, so as not to have concentrated radioactive material in one place,” the premier said during a press conference in Tokyo yesterday.

Despite this, he added that Malaysia was going to have to allow LAMP operations to proceed, or risk losing “a very big investment from Australia”.

Mahathir explained that Malaysia was being cautious as it had has some bad experience with radioactive waste in the past.

“In the past, a certain byproduct of tin mining was used in order to produce colour television. But to do that, they have to activate the material and become radioactive. Now, of course, colour televisions don't use that material anymore. They use LED. So what do we do with the waste that had been activated?

“We had a tough time talking with the business people; eventually, we agreed that we should bury the waste. So a one-km square of land was dedicated to burying these products. Since then, we don't like radioactive material,” he said.

He was referring to tin tailings, or amang, which contain heavy metals.

It was reported yesterday that the prime minister, during the same press conference, had said Malaysia was most likely going to renew the operating licence of the rare earth processing plant.

This marked a shift in Malaysia’s stance as the latter had previously instructed Lynas to send its stockpile of WLP - currently over 451,654 tonnes - to Australia by Sept 2, when its temporary storage licence is up for renewal.

This was one of two preconditions set by the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry; the other being that the company must submit an action plan on the disposal of its accumulated non-­­radioactive neutralisation un­­derflow residue (NUF).Its minister Yeo Bee Yin will reportedly travel to Australia to lead discussions over Lynas.

Lynas’ shares had soared of late following the threat by China, currently the world’s largest producer of rare earth minerals, to hold back exports to the United States as part of the trade war.

In a statement today, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh chastised yesterday’s media reports on Mahathir’s statement.

She said most reports only mentioned the premier’s statement regarding the renewal of Lynas’ licence and Australia’s “investments” but failed to include his statements pertaining to the need to manage the radioactive waste.