Free Malaysia Today – All out effort to stop Lynas rare earth plant

Tashny Sukumaran | May 30, 2011

Residents and environment groups have hammered together a six-point plan to stop construction of the plant

KUANTAN: Residents and anti-Lynas groups are making a concerted effort to stop the RM700 million rare earth plant in Gebeng, Pahang.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh said they have come up with a six-point plan which will be presented today to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) when they meet here today.

Fuziah said the plan will impress on the IAEA representatives the futility of having a plant near the Kuantan port and the unwillingness of the residents to be turned into “lab rats”

The  new rare earth plant has evoked fears of radiation contamination as residents desperately seek to stop the construction of the world’s largest such refinery.

The plant is expected to meet up to 30 per cent of the world’s demand for rare earths outside China. Rare earth elements, a group of 15 metals, are used in electronic devices for the defence, alternative energy and communications industries.

The RM700 million refinery is being constructed by Australia’s Lynas Corp, which plans to ship rare earth ore mined from Western Australia’s Mount Weld to the Gebeng plant by September.

Fuziah said the action plan will look into the medical, legal, social and environmental arguments against the construction of the plant.

The IAEA panel meeting will last until Thursday to discuss the issue with several stakeholders before beginning a month-long review to decide on the fate of the refinery.

Fuziah said the action plan was a result of a two hour meeting with lobby groups and concerned citizens yesterday.

She said some of the points brought up were to force the government to do a DEIA (detailed environmental impact assessment) by a completely independent body.

She said the Pahang Bar Council will also argue that the public were deprived of their rights as they were not consulted beforehand and the Malaysian Medical Council will touch  on the health aspects.

Local resident groups meanwhile will discuss with the panel the impact of the plant on the community while Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the Malaysian Nature Society will argue on the environmental issues.

Fuziah, who is also the PKR vice-president, explained that right now the main priority was to stop Lynas from operating in September.

“This is the most important time, from now until the end of June. Once they receive their license, trying to stop them will take years,” she said.

Lab rats

Epidemiologist Dr Chan Chee Khoon explained at the discussion yesterday that there was too much contention regarding the safety of the plant.

“If there is no consensus among experts, then the project should be halted.”

He asked the residents to rally against being treated like “lab rats”, as the health consequences of the rare earth plant remain largely gray.

Tan Bun Teet, leader of the Save Malaysia Group, intends to lead a rally outside the Hyatt Regency, where the nine-man panel will be based.

Environmental groups both local and Australian have criticised the Lynas rare earth project, saying that the corporation’s plans for waste storage and transport management from Western Australia to the Gebeng industrial zone were not clear.

The Malaysian government was forced to halt operations after the plant sparked uproar among residents and environmentalists who feared it could be a repeat of the 1987 Bukit Merah disaster.

The Bukit Merah disaster was linked to eight cases of leukaemia, with seven resulting in death. The plant, helmed by Mitsubishi Chemicals, was closed down but the area is still undergoing an RM300 million clean-up process.

Minister of International Trade and Industry, Mustapa Mohamed, has promised to make public the panel’s findings and recommendations in the interests of transparency.

However, Lynas Corp do not expect their plans to be derailed regardless of the government review, and maintain that the plant is safe.

The plant anticipates revenue of RM8 billion per year from 2013 onwards .

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