KUALA LUMPUR - A decision by the Pakatan Harapan 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 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 for PH ally Democratic Action Party Chiong Yoke Kong said in a statement on Saturday.
Many PH ministers had made clear promises before coming into power that Lynas could never leave its waste within the country, he noted.
"The Cabinet should make its meeting minutes public to allow citizens to understand the basis of 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 opposed the plant in the past to apologise or resign in protest.
"It clearly shows they are unethical. They used to make so much noise but are now silent," he told reporters on Saturday.
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 Lynas did not have an adequate waste disposal plan.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed this week that the government had dropped its requirement for Lynas, which produces about 12 per cent of global rare earth supply, crucial in high-technology electronics and defence applications, to repatriate its waste as a prerequisite for its licence renewal due by Sept 1.
The Australian mining firm has said that it would instead dispose of the waste in a permanent disposal facility (PDF). Australia has already flatly refused to accept the waste.
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.
The government 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 it had paid a US$42.2 million deposit to fund long-term waste solutions in Malaysia and was mulling using abandoned mines in Pahang as its PDF.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who had previously opposed the plant and insisted that the firm must repatriate its waste, defended the 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 mocked PH lawmakers Fuziah Salleh and Wong Tack, as they had campaigned strongly against Lynas, highlighting the possible radiation risks that the plant posed to residents and the environment.
"Wong Tack, please resign from your MP post! You were elected to throw out Lynas. Now your job failed," one Facebook user wrote.
Minister Yeo was also not spared, as netizens spammed her page.
"The Cabinet/PH government has betrayed the entire nation," wrote one user.