KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — Kuantan residents protested near Parliament today against the impending controversial rare earths refinery next to their town.
About 100 residents at the entrance of the country’s legislative home made their opinions known to the Malaysian government and Australian mining giant, Lynas about the new plant in Gebeng.
However only of ten from the group were allowed into the parliament building to hand over memorandum to a representative from the prime minister’s office.
Bussed from the east coast town to Kuala Lumpur at 7am, they began gathering near Parliament at 8.40am.
The residents held placards such as “Stop Lynas” and a banner saying “Stop Lynas!!! Save Malaysia.”
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh then arrived about half an hour later to a hero’s welcome as the crowd cheered the PKR vice president.
The first-term Kuantan MP has been fighting a solo battle for the last two years to prevent the plant from being built in Malaysia, but has been unsuccessful so far.
She is now on a drive to petition the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to suspend issuing an operating permit to Lynas.
The Lynas plant is being built in the Gebeng Industrial Zone some 25km to the north of the state capital here.
Lynas corporate and business development vice president Matthew James has denied that the plant will be dangerous and told The Malaysian Insider that radiation will be minimal as the raw material used has only 2 per cent of the thorium found in the material processed in Bukit Merah.
Thorium is the radioactive element found in nearly all rare earth deposits.
However Dr Jayabalan A. Thambyappa, the toxicologist who treated radiation victims linked to the Bukit Merah rare earth plant, has also dismissed claims there will be no health hazards from a renewed attempt to process the valuable metals in Gebeng.
He told The Malaysian Insider that “the issue of safe levels of radiation does not arise, carcinogens are carcinogens” and warned that the government was going down the same route as the Bukit Merah refinery that shut down in 1992.
Lynas is expecting to receive a preliminary operating licence from the AELB before September to begin refining the rare earth metals, used in such high-technology products as smartphones, hybrid cars and even bombs.
The operation has been valued at over RM5 billion in the first year, increasing to RM8 billion in the next.
The anti-Lynas group, led by chairman Vincent Jiam Tee Hoong, proceeded to the prime minister’s parliamentary office on the second floor at 10am.
The group was, however, dismissed by the prime minister’s aides and claimed they had been mocked for their attempts to meet Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“He told me that I could go around the country all want for two months but still cannot get an appointment with him (Najib). Why would I want to go around the country?
“I was born here in Malaysia. I am Malaysian. I just want to go to the top man (Najib). Everyone knows the top man can make decisions and we know he can make a right decision for us,” Jiam told reporters.
Jiam also vowed not to stop and pledged continued protests even if the government proceeds with the Lynas refinery.
He said that he will furnish a copy of the memorandum to all lawmakers, and proceeded to extend a copy to Fuziah.
Fuziah then promised she would hand over the memorandum to the prime minister on behalf of the Kuantan residents.