The Malaysian Insider – Parliamentary panel to probe Lynas plant; activists insist on shutdown

UPDATED @ 08:31:21 PM 16-03-2012

By Yow Hong Chieh
March 16, 2012


Lynas Corp says it expects to fire up its Gebeng rare earth refinery in the second quarter. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — The Cabinet has agreed to form a parliamentary select committee to look into the Lynas rare earths plant in Kuantan opposed by residents who fear radioactive contamination and activists who insist it must not be allowed to operate. 

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek disclosed the parliamentary select committee (PSC) today, saying he was informed by MCA ministers who attended this week’s Cabinet meeting.

“MCA supports the decision, and hopes that opposition politicians who will be in the committee won’t use it as a platform for politicking,” Dr Chua told a press conference after a party council meeting.

But there are no other details of the PSC investigating the issues surrounding the RM700 million refinery built by Australian miner Lynas Corp.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh (right), however, said the select committee would be meaningless if the authorities do not also revoke approval for Lynas’s temporary operating licence (TOL) given in January.

“Does it mean everything is on hold or everything continues while we have a parliamentary select committee? I think they have to clarify. Then we can talk.

“If there is no stop-work order, maybe it’s just to look good for the elections,” said the PKR vice president, who has led opposition attacks against the refinery.

Fuziah added that Putrajaya’s latest move appeared to be a response not to public pressure but demands from MCA, which she said was losing Chinese support over the Lynas issue.

Chinese voters were relatively more concerned about the low-level radioactive waste that will be produced by the Australian miner’s plant in comparison to the other races, she pointed out.

“I don’t think the prime minister or the other ministries are really, really bothered. It’s just that MCA has to take this lead or the Chinese voters will turn their backs on the party,” she said.

Himpunan Hijau 2.0 chairman Wong Tack dismissed the need for the parliamentary panel outright, saying it was a “gimmick” to allow the issue to drag on until after elections.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should intervene in the matter and axe the project as demanded by the people to prove that his administration put “People First” as professed.

“Don’t waste time anymore. There’s only one person in Malaysia, that is our prime minister, who needs to step forward and make the right decision…” Wong said.

“The matter is so simple. Why drag in all these parliamentary committees? These are tactics to drag the issue until after elections. We will not entertain that.”

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming said the decision to form a select committee appeared to be an effort to ensure BN has a fighting chance at the two seats closest to the plant.

He noted that the issue so far has been focused on Indera Mahkota and Kuantan, two seats marginally held by the opposition, and has not gone state- or nationwide.

“Without Lynas, BN could’ve won those two seats (in the next election),” he said, adding that Najib was also likely pursuing “damage control” to ensure the issue does not get further out of hand.

Thousands of anti-Lynas protestors attended an opposition-backed rally by Himpunan Hijau last month in the largest protest yet against the rare earth plant that is expected to fire up later this year.

Critics of the refinery in Gebeng, Kuantan want Putrajaya to direct the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to reverse a decision to approve Lynas’s TOL, which will let it embark on a two-year trial run.

They allege that the Australian miner has not given enough assurances on how it will handle the low-level radioactive waste that will be produced at the refinery.

The government has been under pressure from groups to shut down the rare earth project over safety fears, but Putrajaya has stood its ground on the project that was first earmarked for Terengganu.

Lynas maintains that waste from the Gebeng plant — which will be the largest rare earth refinery in the world upon completion — will not be hazardous and can be recycled for commercial applications.

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