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Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Dec 11, 2012
Malaysia has ordered Australian miner Lynas Corp. to ship out waste from its new rare earths plant following protests from environment groups and residents worried about radioactive residue.
Lynas began processing rare earths -- used in anything from missiles to mobile phones -- at the $800 million plant in eastern Pahang state last month after a delay of more than a year due to opposition over health fears.
But four cabinet ministers -- covering trade, science, natural resources and health -- said in a joint statement late Monday that a temporary licence granted to Lynas required it to remove "all the residue" from the plant out of Malaysia.
"The obligation imposed on Lynas in this matter is very clear. The government will not compromise the health and safety of the people and the environment in dealing with the issue of Lynas," they said.
If Lynas fails to comply, the government can suspend or revoke the licence and order it "to immediately cease operation", the ministers warned.
They said Lynas must ship out all residue, including products made from it.
The statement follows local media reports that quoted a top Lynas official in Malaysia as saying it would not remove the waste as it needed to abide by international conventions, which prohibit the export of hazardous wastes.
Lynas officials did not immediately return request for comment. The ministers in their statement said they were referring to "recent inaccurate media reports regarding the removal of the residue".
In November, Lynas cleared a final hurdle when a court gave the go-ahead for the company to fire up. Activists are challenging that court decision with a hearing scheduled for next week, but operations have started.
The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) is set to become one of few sites outside China to process rare earths. The metals, imported from Australia, are used in high-tech equipment.
Residents, activists and opposition leaders have staged numerous protests against the plant, saying it would release radioactive gases and solid waste such as radium and lead, and small amounts of uranium, into the environment.
Lynas has insisted that any radioactive waste would be low-level and not harmful and that it will safely dispose of it.
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