Jan. 30 came and went, but rare earths miner Lynas Corp. still failed to gain approval for a temporary operating licence for its controversial LAMP advanced materials refinery in Gebeng, Kuantan, Malaysia.
For three weeks this month starting Jan. 3, Lynas Corp.'s 300-page application was put up by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board of Malaysia for public viewing and consultation. All feedback was collected on Jan. 26, four days before a scheduled Jan. 30 deliberation by the AELB board.
Still, no decision came out on Jan. 30.
"Every single comment has already been reviewed and taken under consideration," Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, AELB director-general, said in Free Malaysia Today.
Environmentalist groups and individuals who are against the rare earths processing plant had criticised the Malaysian government for attempting to review three weeks' worth of feedback in a mere four days.
"We have been consolidating and reviewing the comments from the very first day so there was no rushing through it," Abdul Aziz said.
Lynas Corp.'s 300-page application received a total of 1,123 suggestions, comments, feedback and ideas from the public as to how its rare earth plant in Gebeng should be managed and monitored to ensure safe operations.
Earlier, activist groups led by the Malaysian Medical Association, Pahang Bar Council, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas and Stop Lynas Coalition said Lynas Corp.'s proposed waste management plan was "full of holes and totally unsafe," even belittling the miner's application as a "very weak application."
Abdul Aziz said the AELB will announce its decision on the application for a temporary operating licence through the government, regardless of whether Lynas Corp.'s application passed the screening or not. He did not, however, state any definite date.
Lynas Corp. likewise refused to comment on the matter.
"To pre-empt or pre-suppose any outcomes of this review would be inappropriate and we will not be drawn on third part speculation," Liz Whiteway, Lynas' general manager for Brand, Communication and Community Value, said in Free Malaysia Today.
"The Malaysian regulatory authorities have put in place a comprehensive process to monitor and evaluate Lynas' compliance with the highest international standards and it is our responsibility to operate the plant in a safe and sustainable manner."
Meanwhile, politics had also gotten in the way of the controversial LAMP advanced materials refinery plant as Fuziah Salleh, a member of the opposition parliament group for Kuantan where the plant is being built, said they will ultimately ditch the $200 million rare earths processing plant if they win in national elections expected within the next months.
"The opposition will put a stop to the plant," Fuziah said in Reuters News.
"We are very clear about our position with regards to sustainable development. And Lynas Corp. is definitely not what we categorise as sustainable development."
The nearly completed LAMP plant in Malaysia is in conjunction to Lynas Corp.'s Mount Weld Rare Earth Project in Western Australia. Mount Weld is already operational, with buyers already lined-up to purchase its yield. The final stumbling stock that remains is Malaysia's approval on the LAMP plant.
Once approved, Lynas Corp. is touted to become one of the world's biggest rare earths producers that could possibly give China, the world's second largest economy and also the world's stronghold of rare earths elements, a run for its money and rare earths produce. China supplies more than 95 per cent of global demand.
The Australian company's failure to get an approval to operate the plant has rendered the completion of LAMP behind schedule, plus incurring a $40 million blowout in related construction costs. The locals in Kuantan oppose the project due to fears of radiation pollution. In June 2011, Lynas Corp. announced the plant would be operational by the end of 2011.
In December, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the National Professors' Council, in a joint 63-page report on the project, said Lynas Corp.'s rare earth plant would be safe and harmless if the company adhered to the tight recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including waste management, worker safety, public safety and environmental well-being.
Also in late December, Malaysia's Department of Environment for Pahang, where the plant is located, held a public briefing. It supported Lynas Corp.'s plant and said it is more of a chemicals factory than a radioactive facility, according to Malaysian news reports.
Lynas Corp. had painstakingly placed full-page advertisements in mainstream Malaysian newspapers to explain how the facility operates to allay community concerns on radioactive pollution risk.