Malaysia to renew Lynas' rare earths plant licence: sources

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in Gebeng, Pahang, Malaysia, July 23, 2019. Picture taken on July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has agreed to renew for another three years Australian firm Lynas Corp Ltd’s licence to operate the only major rare earths processing plant outside of China, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday, said the sources who declined to be named ahead of a public announcement.

The renewal had been in doubt because of a dispute over low-level radioactive waste produced by the plant.

Shares in the company which has been operating the $800 million plant since 2012 using rare earths mined from Mount Weld in Western Australia, closed up more than 8% after the decision was reported by website MalaysiaKini.

In August last year, Malaysia renewed the plant’s operating licence for a shorter-than-usual six months on condition that it finds a permanent site to store waste and moves its cracking and leaching facility outside of Malaysia within four years.

“Yes, cabinet has in principle agreed to renew the licence for three years,” one of the sources said. “They have fulfilled the conditions we set for them. There’s no more talk about doing other things now that they have shown ... their action plan.”

Last month, Lynas said it had received consent from Pahang state, where the plant is located, with regards to a site for a storage facility.

Lynas, which sells mainly to Japan, said on Thursday it had not yet received any renewal notification. A Pahang government official said they had yet to hear from the federal government.

Some Malaysians have protested against the plant, citing health concerns from the radioactivity, though Lynas and Mahathir have said there is no risk.

Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru, A. Ananthalakshmi and Liz Lee in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Richard Pullin and Elaine Hardcastle