KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 (Reuters) - Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) has postponed granting a temporary rare earths mine operating licence to Australian miner Lynas Corp until the hearing of an appeal by residents to the government has been settled.
Lynas's rare earths plant in Kuantan on the east coast of Malaysia, under construction since 2010, is key to breaking major supplier China's hold on rare earths elements that are used in electronic devices such as Apple's iPhone.
"The atomic board will not issue the licence until the hearing has been settled," said AELB's director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan when contacted by Reuters on Thursday.
Malaysia's AELB approved a two-year operating licence for Lynas in early February, on condition it submit a detailed plan for a permanent disposal facility for waste from the plant within 10 months.
An appeal to Malaysia's Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry was filed after Malaysia's attorney general ruled that court action launched in February by residents in Kuantan seeking to force the government to review its decision to grant Lynas a temporary operating licence was not the correct avenue of appeal.
Malaysian residents and local politicians say they are worried that radioactive waste from the plant could contaminate the environment.
"We will meet the (Science, Technology and Innovation) minister on April 17 and give our submissions. The decision by the minister will be final and not subject to any court appeal," Tan Bun Teet, chairman of the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group, told Reuters on Thursday. (Reporting by Yantoultra Ngui; editing by Keiron Henderson)