KL's U-turn on Lynas waste disposal sparks outcry

Pakatan Harapan leaders had protested against the Lynas plant, built in 2012 during Najib's administration, when they were in the opposition, over fears that it produced radioactive waste.
Pakatan Harapan leaders had protested against the Lynas plant, built in 2012 during Najib's administration, when they were in the opposition, over fears that it produced radioactive waste.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • A decision by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to scrap a requirement for the controversial Lynas rare earth plant to ship back its feared radioactive waste as a condition to renew its operating licence has attracted condemnation among its own lawmakers as well as the opposition.

"Since the PH government is making a huge U-turn on the issue of Lynas, it has the responsibility to explain to the voters," assemblyman Chiong Yoke Kong for PH ally Democratic Action Party said in a statement on Saturday.

He noted that many PH ministers had made clear promises before coming into power that Lynas could never leave its waste within the country. "The Cabinet should make its meeting minutes public to allow citizens to understand the basis on which the Cabinet made the decision as well as Cabinet members' stances on the issue of Lynas," he added.

Former prime minister Najib Razak called for PH leaders who had previously opposed the plant in Kuantan to resign.

"Prior to the general election, they were promising the people to shut it down, and even claimed that it was a nuclear disaster waiting to happen," he said yesterday.

PH leaders had protested against the Lynas plant, built in 2012 during Najib's administration, when they were in the opposition, over fears that it produced radioactive waste. Opponents of the plant said that Lynas did not have an adequate waste disposal plan.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed last week that the government had dropped its requirement for Lynas to repatriate its waste as a prerequisite for its licence renewal due by Sept 1. Lynas produces about 12 per cent of the global supply of rare earths, crucial in high-technology electronics and defence applications.

The Australian mining firm has said that it would instead dispose of the waste in a permanent disposal facility.

DEFENDING GOVT'S DECISION

What I can say is that as far as I am concerned, the decision may not be an ideal one, but it's still much better than the status quo.

ENERGY, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE MINISTER YEO BEE YIN, on the decision to drop the requirement for Lynas to repatriate its waste as a condition for the renewal of its operating licence.

Australia has already flatly refused to accept the waste.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Fuziah Salleh, MP for Kuantan, said yesterday that Malaysia is in a bind over the Lynas issue as the main beneficiary of the processed rare earths is Japan, which has provided loans to the country. She remains opposed to the plant.

"My message is for us to never place investment profits above the people's safety," she said.

The government has said that Malaysia could attract investments of up to RM100 billion (S$33 billion) in the rare earth sector over the next decade.

 
 

Its U-turn comes amid the ongoing US-China trade war, and the growing importance of Lynas as a major supplier, outside China, of these coveted elements.

Lynas Malaysia managing director Mashal Ahmad said the company had paid a US$42.2 million (S$58 million) deposit to fund long-term waste solutions in Malaysia and was mulling over using abandoned mines in Pahang as its permanent disposal facility.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who had previously insisted that the company must repatriate its waste, defended the government's decision on Saturday but conceded that it was not ideal.

"What I can say is that as far as I am concerned, the decision may not be an ideal one, but it's still much better than the status quo," she said.

Netizens have also mocked PH lawmaker Wong Tack, as he had campaigned strongly against Lynas.

"Wong Tack, please resign from your MP post! You were elected to throw out Lynas. Now your job failed," one Facebook user wrote.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2019, with the headline 'KL's U-turn on Lynas waste disposal sparks outcry'. Print Edition | Subscribe