Anti-Lynas historical revisionism - a response

Arveent Kathirchelvan

Modified 1 Aug 2019, 10:43 pm

LETTER | I refer to the letter Lynas does not consider the environment and health of Malaysians.

It is shocking indeed to read the views of an ex-project processing officer in Mida on the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) not because of any new revelations but how it was filled with misleading attempts at denigrating the plant. As a response, I will list my points of disagreement as follows.

1. The letter says how, in the beginning, Lynas applied for construction with "only a preliminary environment impact assessment (PEIA)" and surmised that the waste management plan submitted was "incomplete and inadequate".

2. What the letter fails to mention is that, in 2008, for producing “rare earth oxides and carbonates” at the Gebeng Industrial Estate in 2008, the DOE’s guidelines only required it to conduct a preliminary EIA (PEIA). Lynas’ ore-processing activity, which generates radioactive wastes, was at the time not listed as a “prescribed activity” requiring the preparation of a DEIA under DOE rules. This is according to Che Asmah Ibrahim in 2012.

3. She continues to state that the DOE subsequently reviewed this list of activities, taking into consideration activities with radioactive impact, future impact, shortly after a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed their first review of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp).

4. The letter then focused on the radioactive waste management plan (RWMP) Lynas was supposed to provide the AELB according to the IAEA’s recommendations from their 2011 review. Apparently, the RWMP “has some details of Lynas" waste management but is still missing key information such as the composition of Lynas’s lanthanide concentrate and the leachate characteristics of the radioactive waste from the water-leached purification stream (WLP)”.

5. However, the IAEA’s second evaluation in 2014 found that all of their previous recommendations were followed by Lynas. On the RWMP, the 2014 IAEA report found, “The Safety Case, Radioactive Waste Management Plan and Radiological Impact Assessment and their updates supported the review and approval by the AELB in their issuance of the Temporary and Full Operations Stage licenses and the respective license conditions”. Further, the review team suggested developments on plans to convert the temporary Residue Storage Facility (RSF) into a Permanent Disposal Facility as well, which Lynas has followed.

6. Moreover, the 2018 government review committee report shows that the Lamp did provide planning and location documents for a permanent disposal facility 10 months after receiving their Temporary Operating License (TOL) as stipulated within the TOL agreements. These were evaluated and agreed by the AELB on Feb 14, 2014. Hence, it is strange indeed that the writer states Lynas had behaved against IAEA’s recommendations and guidelines when the IAEA report itself disagrees with that statement.

7. It is even stranger that the writer states the cost of Lynas waste treatment has not been factored into its operations. This is because, as evident from multiple reports, Lynas has diligently paid over one percent of its gross revenue for research and development (R&D) to upcycle its wastes as stipulated in the licensing agreement. Moreover, the RSF built by Lynas has been handled perfectly according to the government’s own review report in 2018. Lynas has also stated they are ready and willing to build PDFs as well. One cannot see what the problem is.

8. Strangely, the writer goes on to state that "worldwide, practically all rare earth plants are closing or closed down because it is not viable given the very high cost of handling the radioactive waste". This is not true. As I have pointed out before, there are multiple countries producing rare earths whose production is set to increase. Of the mines that do close, this is because Chinese rare-earth prices caused them to be non-competitive. However, this is changing. In the US, for example, MP Materials, the owners of California’s Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine, have responded to the US-China trade war by stating they will start their own processing in the US by 2020.

9. The writer's attack on Lynas’s supposed failure to commercialise their scheduled waste is uncalled for as all R&D done with them showed positive results though it was recommended more research be done in the 2018 review report. Moreover, even if the commercialisation is to fail, Lynas committed to build a Permanent Disposal Facility as well. Why skip this and force them to remove these wastes? Does this not breach the licensing agreement?

10. The question then becomes does Lynas have the financial means to build the PDF in the first place. Seeing as how there are now proposals to make the RSF into a PDF, in line with the IAEA recommendations, it is not difficult to see that it is entirely possible to finance the PDF. Or building it in a used bauxite mine, as there are many near the plant, is also possible. In any case, a look at Lynas’s annual reports shows robust financial performance and substantial net asset value as well.

11. The writer then challenges Lynas to name a rare earth plant that has successfully diluted and dispersed its toxic waste. Well, the wastes produced contain naturally occurring radioactive material, which indeed is diluted and dispersed in several places. For example, phosphogypsum, a similar material to Lynas’s Neutralisation Underflow waste, has been used in Brazil and Spain as a soil conditioner for agriculture. Even fly ash from coal combustion is used as an additive in concrete, even though its radioactivity quite high. However, each proposal to commercialise wastes as new products should be on a case-by-case basis and those for Lynas indicate positive results.

12. Towards the end, the writer makes the conflates Lynas with the Asian Rare Earths scandal which, time and again, have been defined to be very different from each other, hence does not need commenting on.

It is very strange that a supposed ex-Mida officer has resorted to misleading the public in this manner. This, coupled with the recent development with the "deep state" disrupting the government’s activities, may lead one to suspect hidden hands behind such articles. 

As Lynas’s license gets closer to renewal, we are seeing a greater concentration of these articles. With the regulatory, safety and environmental concerns clearly not as alarming as believed we must ask ourselves one question. Who stands to benefit from closing the largest rare-earth processing plant outside of China?

The writer is chief coordinator at Liberasi, a student platform for revisionism, freedom and responsibility.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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