Malaysia government to review Australia rare earths plant

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AFP) — An ardent critic of an Australian rare earths plant in Malaysia said yesterday she will head a government review into the controversial site after her political alliance took power at landmark elections.

Shares of Australian miner Lynas have been hit since reports emerged that MP Fuziah Salleh had been picked to probe the plant, which has long been opposed by green groups over concerns it produces dangerous radioactive waste.

The factory began processing rare earths sent from Australia in 2012. The miner hopes the US$720-million plant can reduce Chinese dominance in the market for rare earths, which are used in everything from missiles to mobile phones.

Malaysia's political opposition had long been against the plant, and the review comes after they unexpectedly ousted the coalition of Najib Razak at the polls in May.

Fuziah, a deputy minister in the prime minister's department, confirmed that she will chair a 10-member committee to examine operations at the site in Kuantan in Pahang state, and whether it had met regulatory requirements when it was set up.

“We are worried about the plant's radioactive waste management,” she told AFP.

“We want to open all the files and see if all the conditions for setting up the plant, issuance of the temporary operating licence and the permanent operating licence, have been complied with,” she added.

The politician has long campaigned against the plant, which is in her constituency.

The committee, including lawyers, environmentalists and chemical engineers, will hold its first meeting tomorrow and the review will last three months, she said.

Recommendations will then be submitted to the government.

Lynas said in a statement Monday that it would cooperate with any review but added that reports that the committee chair may be a long-time anti-Lynas campaigner “will raise concerns”.

Widespread opposition to the plant led to the start of its operations being delayed by a year.

The Australian miner insists the plant is safe and that any radioactive waste will be low-level and safely disposed of.

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