Malaysia

Western Australia said no to Lynas, Pahang Bar reveals

By Debra Chong
May 10, 2011

The site of the Lynas plant in Gebeng. — File picThe site of the Lynas plant in Gebeng. — File picKUANTAN, May 10 — The Pahang Bar revealed today a Western Australian local council had “vigorously” opposed Lynas Corp building a rare earth refinery in its home state as the main reason for the Australian miner to ship its ore some 3,000km to Malaysia to be processed.

State Bar chief Hon Kai Ping said his team of lawyers had unearthed the minutes of the meeting of the Council of the Shire of Northam dating back to November 23, 2005 which recorded the local government “vigorously opposes the siting of a hazardous waste disposal and treatment plant at the Avon Industrial Park (in Meenar) based on the negative perceptions that the location will cause to Grass Valley, the Town of Northam and the Avon region.”

The document, Hon added, stated among other things: “The Town of Northam, along with other Councils in the Avon Valley, has been promoting the Valley as a clean and green tourism and lifestyle experience. Having a hazardous waste site on the Town’s doorstep would undo a lot of the work that has been undertaken by Council…”

“Pahang Bar is not certain but this may or may not throw some light as to why the proposal was not proceeded with despite all the convenience of distance as there is a highway running from Mount Weld, Laverton to the Town of Northam with no necessity of shipping the ore overseas,” Hon said in a statement today.

Hon observed that Lynas had hid this crucial piece of information even as unsatisfied Malaysians demand to know the logic behind the rare earth company’s expensive move.

The Pahang Bar is among the swelling tide of critics who have voiced objection to the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant being built in the Gebeng industrial zone, calling on Putrajaya to act on this new piece of information.

“The Pahang Bar in the circumstances reiterated its call that all aspects including the effects on tourism, economy, the way of life, environment,” he said.

He pointed out that Gebeng was, like Australia’s Avon region, a top tourism magnet and close to the world-renowned Cherating beach, which is part of the Club Med hotel circuit.

Hon also said Lynas failed to disclose the company had won the support of the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority as far back as 1992 to build a plant to process the Mount Weld ore in an place called Meenar, 18km east of Northam and somewhere between Laverton and Perth.

The lawyer urged the authorities to probe deeper.

He also called for the independent review panel, which will include members from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Vienna-based agency has confirmed participation and is set to come to Malaysia at the end of this month.

Lynas has said it does not expect the review will slow the start-up of its refinery, scheduled to power up in September.

Civil groups have stepped up their protests against the plant, including marching on Parliament while in session, prompted by radiation leakages from Japan’s nuclear power plants last month following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

While the technology used in rare earths processing is different, residents and non-governmental organisations fear a similar backlash.

They are reminded of the Bukit Merah disaster in Perak nearly 20 years ago, where radioactive waste left behind by the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant was blamed for the area’s high cancer rate and newborns with birth defects.

Lynas’ shares have tripled in the past year as global demand for its minerals — especially those for telecommunications — boomed. Rare earth metals are key to a global switch to cleaner energy — from batteries in hybrid cars to magnets in wind turbines.

But mining and processing the metals causes environmental harm that even China, the world’s biggest producer, is no longer willing to bear.