Lynas: Rare earths to be shipped to M’sia will not include NORM

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 25, 2019.
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KUALA LUMPUR: Rare earths producer Lynas Corp said yesterday that it is committed to relocating the first-stage processing of its rare earths — where the material is separated from the low-level, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) it is found with — to Australia over the next five years.

In a statement, Datuk Mashal Ahmad, the managing director and vice-president of its Malaysian operations — Lynas Malaysia — said the group has identified two potential processing sites that are close to its mine in Western Australia, for the relocation of this first-stage process, also called cracking and leaching.

“We have listened to the prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and we understand that Malaysia would prefer that our first-stage rocessing takes place before our material is shipped to Malaysia for further processing. The first stage is where our rare earths are removed from the low-level, naturally occurring radioactive material they are found alongside,” said Mashal.

He said material shipped to Malaysia for processing would not include the NORM once the new plant is operational, adding that the government and local communities in Western Australia are supportive of the group’s work.

“Around one-third of Lynas Malaysia’s employees currently work in cracking and leaching, so we will invest in additional downstream processing in Malaysia to create new jobs and ensure all of our people have opportunities to grow with our company.

“Making these changes to our operations will cost approximately RM1.5 billion, but we will do this because we are committed to our people and to Malaysia’s role as a rare earths centre of excellence.

“Our operations were not an election issue in GE14 (14th general election) — even the anti-Lynas activists acknowledged this at the time. Many independent reviews and Malaysia’s most senior scientists have confirmed that our operations are low-risk and compliant with all relevant regulations.

“Despite this, over the past 12 months, there has been a campaign of misinformation by anti-Lynas activists. This is very disappointing, but we do not want Malaysia to miss out on playing an important role in the global supply of rare earths,” Mashal said.

He added that in keeping with Lynas Malaysia’s licence conditions and industrial best practice, the group has invested in research into the safe reuse of the residues that it generates.

“We have an agreed pathway for our NUF (neutralisation underflow) residue, which is a synthetic gypsum with many commercial uses. We are working with the government on a solution for our WLP (water leach purification) residue. As stated in our licence conditions, this could include safe reuse or moving the material to a permanent deposit facility,” he added.

Lynas Malaysia, which operates a rare earths processing plant in Gebeng, Pahang, will have its operating licence up for renewal in September. The energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry previously set as condition in December that Lynas had to remove its waste stockpiles before the licence would be renewed.

Dr Mahathir, meanwhile, was reported as saying last month that the government would allow Lynas’ licence to be renewed, and that Malaysia did not want to lose such a large investment.