UN experts begin Malaysia rare earths visitAgence France-Presse
KUALA LUMPUR – A team of UN atomic energy experts began a week-long visit to Malaysia on Sunday to review the safety of a proposed Australian rare earths refinery that has drawn protests.
Following public concerns that radioactive waste from the plant could leak out and harm the environment, Malaysia has put the project by Australian miner Lynas on hold, pending the independent panel’s review.
A nine-member team led by a senior official from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived this weekend to review the plant, which is under construction near the town of Kuantan in eastern Pahang state, said an official from the International Trade Ministry.
The team is meeting Malaysian government officials on Sunday before traveling to eastern Malaysia on Monday to meet residents and inspect the construction site for three days, he said.
They are expected to present their final findings by end of June, the official said.
The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) was scheduled to begin processing rare earth – used in high-tech products from iPods to missiles – in the third quarter of 2011.
But activists and residents say they fear radioactive waste produced by the plant would not be disposed of properly and could endanger them and the environment.
Pending the panel’s review, the government has said it will not issue a pre-operating licence to Lynas and has barred imports of raw materials from Australia to be processed at the facility.
A similar facility built by a Japanese firm in another part of Malaysia was forced to shut down in 1992 due to protests.
Lynas has insisted the plant poses no safety threats. It has said any waste would be placed in safe, reliable engineered storage cells to avoid any leakage.
Lynas has described the facility as the largest of its kind in the world set to be one of the few sources of rare earths outside China.