Malaysia

NGO condemns Lynas plant in Australia, rejects IAEA report

By Melissa Chi
August 04, 2011

Lynas management holding a media conference at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton June 30 2011.Lynas management holding a media conference at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton June 30 2011.KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) continued to go all out to stop Australian miner Lynas Corp from setting up a RM700 million rare earth refinery plant in Gebeng and condemned today the opening of Lynas’s concentration plant in Mt. Weld, Western Australia.

“Let us each do our part to ensure that this impending tragedy that will befall a population of 700,000 around a 30km radius of the LAMP does not begin with the opening of the concentration facility at Mt. Weld.

“We the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas movement will take every action and do everything possible to stop it,” said SMSL representative Tan Bun Teet in a statement.

According to Australian media, the Mt Weld mine, about 35km south of Laverton, is a US$100 million (RM310million) Lynas Corporation project developed over the past 10 years.

The ore will be concentrated at Mount Weld before export to LYNAS Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, about 25km from Kuantan, and then sold globally.

The non-governmental organisation had also rejected the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report saying the controversial rare earth plant in Gebeng is safe.

“Lynas has conveniently used the narrowly focused IAEA review to claim that the LAMP is safe.  What Lynas has failed nor bothered to reveal is that the IAEA review panel has only narrowly assessed the radiation safety aspects of the LAMP.

“In reality, the IAEA Review has not dealt with the many critical aspects of the LAMP that have far greater impact on the environment and our health.  The entire plant design, its construction, operation, incidents, decommissioning, shutdowns, and waste treatment; environmental, plant asset integrity, civil and structure have been left out in the review. Other crucial issues including occupational health and safety as well as socio-economic were also not in the scope of the review,” he said.

Anti-Lynas protesters outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur May 20 2011.Anti-Lynas protesters outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur May 20 2011.Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), an environmental group had also questioned the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) review of a controversial RM700 million rare earth plant in Kuantan, saying that it also approved the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Ipoh which was linked to a surge of birth defects and cancer in the surrounding area.

SAM also said that the United Nations body had vested interest in the matter as it is “an agency that was set up to promote nuclear energy and lends support to the nuclear industry.”

“Unquestionably this IAEA peer review is not an all-inclusive study but has been wrongly regarded as an ultimate assessment that approves the LAMP safe,” Tan said.

Opposition leaders, especially PKR vice president Fuziah Salleh, have attacked the Barisan Nasional (BN) state and federal governments over the plant being built by Lynas, turning it into a major election issue in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s home state.

Kuantan MP Fuziah has led local residents and environmentalists in loud protests against the plant that they say will be a source of radiation pollution.

The federal government bowed to public pressure in April and ordered a month-long review by a team of international experts led by the IAEA, which was concluded on June 28.

Fuziah speaking at a Safe Malaysia Stop Lynas gathering in Kuantan March 20 2011.Fuziah speaking at a Safe Malaysia Stop Lynas gathering in Kuantan March 20 2011.“The construction of the LAMP has started even when the Radiological impact Assessment (RIA) was still being done.  In fact the RIA was only completed based solely on data from Lynas just before the government initiated review panel from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was due to arrive in town.  The RIA did not meet the requirement of the generally pro-nuclear industry IAEA and an updated version was only recently re-submitted by Lynas.

“In Australia, Lynas would have to submit a full and comprehensive environmental and waste management plan before any approval for construction was given, often with additional requirements to be fulfilled by order of the Environmental Protection Agency. In Malaysia, Lynas has yet to produce one for its LAMP even though its construction is now 60 per cent completed. Lynas’ claimed commitment to excellence in safety and health and its goal to strive towards zero harm is a mockery to our intelligence and shows no respect for our people,” he said.

The mining giant has gone ahead with a deal with Thai engineering firm to complete a second phase of the plant by the last quarter of 2012 subject to approval from local authorities.

Lynas says that its plant — which will extract rare earth metals crucial for high-technology products like smartphones, hybrid cars and wind turbines — will create a RM4 billion multiplier effect annually and 350 jobs for skilled workers.

Although reports say the plant may earn RM8 billion for Lynas, critics have questioned the real economic benefit of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break Lynas will enjoy due to its pioneer status.

Anti-Lynas protesters outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur May 20 2011.Anti-Lynas protesters outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur May 20 2011.“Essentially, the LAMP is a case of a foreign corporation, in this case, Lynas doing it cheap by locating the most polluting and toxic part of its operations in a developing country where environmental law is lax and governance track record weak whilst escaping taxes and avoiding tight and expensive pollution control in its home country.

“We call upon all concerned citizens in Malaysia and in Australia to honour and uplift the universal principle of ‘Do not to others what you do not wish others to do to you’,” he said.

Putrajaya has adopted 11 safety recommendations from the review panel, which Lynas has said it is confident of meeting by the end of the year.

China currently supplies about 95 per cent of the global rare earths market, but limits its supply to the rest of the world.

Based on estimates, Lynas could be supplying about eight per cent of the world market in 2012 and about 14 per cent in 2013.