Australian rare earth plant ‘too toxic’
By South-East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel, wires
Updated Fri May 20, 2011 9:59pm AEST
More than 150 people have demonstrated outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur against a plant that will process radioactive iron ore in Malaysia.
The Lynas plant will extract rare earth minerals with low levels of radioactive thorium from Western Australia, which are used in high-tech manufacturing of everything from iPods and mobile phones to missiles.
Activists say they are not happy with the waste disposal plans of the company and they do not want the almost completed plant to open.
Under a heavy police presence, protesters held posters that read “Too toxic! Too risky!” and “We don’t want Lynas” and “Lynas, go back to Australia”.
Following public concern that the plant could produce radioactive waste, the government said last month it would not issue a pre-operating licence to Lynas and bar imports of raw materials from Australia to be processed at the facility, pending a review by an independent panel of UN atomic energy experts.
The protesters also appealed to the embassy to stop the plant or at least take back the radioactive waste they say it will produce.
“We, the residents of Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia are extremely concerned over the proposed construction and operation” of the plant, Vincent Jiam, chairman of the Save Malaysia Committee, said in a memorandum sent to the Australian High Commission.
In a statement, Lynas said it welcomed the government’s review and insisted that its storage plans for the rare earths and waste at the plant were safe and represented no hazard to the community.
“The Radiological Impact Assessment completed by Nuclear Malaysia (Malaysia’s atomic agency) on the storage of these residues shows them to be safe, posing no risk to the public,” it said.
“However, Lynas has taken the additional safety step of placing these residues in safe, reliable engineered storage cells that are designed so that there is no possibility for any leakage of material into the environment.”
First posted Fri May 20, 2011 9:13pm AEST