SYDNEY, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Australia's Lynas Corp said on Thursday it was awaiting a Jan 30 decision by the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board over an application to begin commissioning a rare earths processing plant targeted by environmental protesters in Malaysia.
Lynas is one of a handful of rare earths companies looking to break China's grip on the global supply of rare earths, a range of 17 elements used to make high-tech electronics, magnets and batteries.
Protests by local residents during construction of the $200 million plant in Kuantan in central Malaysia last year prompted an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Lynas received a favourable report from the IAEA but was told to provide a long-term waste management and safety plan.
Lynas said the application before the Malaysian licensing board is for a temporary, or pre-operating licence that would enable it to progressively ramp up the plant to produce rare earths at maximum capacity rates.
If the temporary licence is granted a permanent operating licence can be issued within two years, according to the company.
Lynas aims to meet 20 percent of world demand for rare earths gleaned from ores in west Australia and processed in Malaysia. Currently, China produces about 97 percent of world supply of rare earths but has started imposing lower export quotas on its domestic producers.
Lynas says the plant poses no environmental risk.
The Malaysian licensing board is open for public comment for 14 days after Lynas submitted its application on Jan 3.
The Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry has indicated the licensing board will meet Jan. 30, for a decision on the application, Lynas said.
Beijing had defended its export limits on environmental and other grounds, saying it increasingly needed rare earths at home.
This has prompted world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who in 2011 authorised spending to secure supplies of rare earth minerals outside of China, to implore mining companies to exploit more reserves.
Lynas shares were trading 4 percent lower, outpacing a 1 percent loss in the wider market and a 1.3 percent loss in Arafura Resources, another Australian rare earths miner in pre-production.