Lynas doesn't expect 'zero-sum game' result
Note: Zero-Sum Game - a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s)
KUALA LUMPUR: Australian-listed Lynas Corp executive chairman Nicholas Curtis does not expect the decision by the international expert panel on the controversial RM700mil rare earth facility in Gebeng, Kuantan, to involve a “zero-sum game” whereby the company will not be allowed to commence its operations.
The decision is scheduled to be made at the end of this month.
“I'm not going to pre-empt what the expert panel will decide. But it's simplifying things to say the panel will decide on whether we should leave or not leave, do or don't. If we can make it safe, improve things and put the necessary measures in place, I assure you we will abide by that.
“We are up for any improvements. There's only one tiny part of the operation (waste management) that produces potentially radioactive material, the rest is absolutely safe. If they say the storage facility is fine but we need to do a few other things, of course, we will abide by it,” he said in an interview with StarBiz yesterday.
“Let's factually engage and take the emotion out of this debate. We'd like to engage the community to feel comfortable that the facility is safe. We are glad that the community is talking to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency),” he said.
Following wide-spread public concerns over the social and environmental hazards, the Government appointed an independent panel of international experts to review all health and safety aspects of the project. Pending completion of the review, it was also decided that no pre-operating license will be issued to Lynas by Malaysian Atomic Energy Licencing Board (AELB) and that no raw materials will be imported for the plant from Australia.
Lynas plans to import rare earth ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia, truck it to the port of Fremantle, send it by container ship to Kuantan and process it at the Gebeng Industrial Estate in Pahang.
Curtis further defended the company's decision not to have the processing plant in Australia.
“We don't sell one molecule of our material to Australia. We sell them to Japan, the United States and Europe. So, there is simply no market in Australia to justify the economics (of setting up the plant in Australia).
“So, we have to transport these materials somewhere away from the centre of the desert for processing. We went to China first as they had the technology and skills but it didn't work because they pulled down the shutters on exports. Why would we take all the materials there only not not be able to get it out again?
“It came down to a UAE and a few Asian countries, including Malaysia, and we felt the conditions in Malaysia was better in terms of infrastructure,” he said.
Curtis, Lynas' founder, admitted that the company had done a “poor job” in explaining to the public about its facility and had not foreseen the “perfect storm”.
“The company suddenly found itself confronted with accusation of damage to the community which has been challenging to confront. It's not how we see ourselves. We are a value-based company. Fundamental to rare earth is their embeddedness in technology, in particular green technology. So we think ourselves as going in the same direction as the activists who say we are going in the opposite direction,” he said.
“We had gone through all the permitting process and all the jumps and hurdles that the AELB put us through. What we didn't recognise is that was not enough. We had the obligation to tell the community more about what we were doing and while we did that in 2008, the big mistake is that we should have continued to reinforce it. I believe strongly that our licence to operate is a function of community acceptance.”
Lynas is a single-project company. “We are not a big monster mining company and do not have projects all around the world. We are focused on one thing, which is this one particular operation. We'd be appalled with the concept that we would in any way hurt or damage the community from our activities. That's not in any way an acceptable position. The very core of our existence is sustainable future,” he said.