Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Opposition to Lynas escalates on all fronts...

Anti-Lynas Himpunan Hijau 2.0 in Kuantan, Pahang, 26 February 2012 (photo: Malaysiakini)

PETALING JAYA: The Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia (ANAWA) has revealed that Lynas Corporation Ltd was supposed to build its plant in Western Australia and not Malaysia.

According to ANAWA, Lynas’ 14-year-old blueprint indicated that the Australian mining giant had orginally planned to build its processing plant in Meenar a decade ago. But until today there had been no signs of any development on the intended site.

ANAWA spokesperson Marcus Atkinson told FMT that the orginal approvals were given by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for Lynas to ship rare earth to buyers and confirmed that he had viewed these relevant documents firsthand.

Under pressure: Nick Curtis, Lynas CEO (TMI)
However, he said that Lynas had since made numerous alterations to its operations to the point that its rare earth refinery had now landed in Malaysia.

“Instead of transporting processed rare earth, it is now shipping a concentrate which contains thorium and other radioactive material with more heavy metals,” he told FMT.

Atkinson admitted that they had been more focused on Lynas’ operations in Australia until the uproar in Malaysia reached their ears and they realised that Lynas’ had made “massive” changes to its plans.

“Now it involves Malaysia and our moral responsibility,” he said. “This is a complete change to the original project hence why we are urging the EPA to review Lynas’ approvals.”

ANAWA and Australia’s Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) lodged a referral with the EPA this morning calling on the latter to reopen the project and revisit Lynas’ “outdated” approvals.

Atkinson had yesterday raised deep concerns over the amount of radioactive material being transported from Mount Weld to Fremantle Port for export and called for stronger regulations to be put in place to ease the fears of the surrounding community.

He had also drawn attention to the fact that Lynas had sparked off Malaysia’s largest environmental campaign with its RM2.5 billion Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng, Kuantan.

The nationwide Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally held on March 26 saw more than 15,000 people gathering to demand that Lynas be ousted from Kuantan.

Less stringent laws

Atkinson added that ANAWA and EDO strongly believed that Lynas had chosen to move its operations to Malaysia because of the heavy metals and radioactive waste involved in the processing.

“We believe Lynas picked Malaysia to save money and enable it to operate under less stringent laws,” he stated.

“The biggest concerns about the processing are the storage and waste management issues which are made more difficult in Gebeng which we understand to be wetlands.”

Asked if Lynas would be allowed to operate in the same manner and with the same liberty in Western Australia as in Gebeng, Atkinson firmly replied in the negative. “There is no way it could operate the way it is in Malaysia over here,” he said. “Australia’s laws are much more stringent.”

Atkinson issued a further call for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to be scrutinised for downplaying the levels of radioactivity soon to be produced by Lynas’ operations.

“Just because the radioactive elements fall below the IAEA’s levels it doesn’t mean that the products don’t contain any radioactivity,” he pointed out.

EDO and its lawyers would also be issuing a letter to Lynas today urging it to stop any plans for the exportation of rare earth until the EPA reached a decision following the referral submission.

The EPA was expected to revert to ANAWA and EDO within 28 days on whether it would reopen the case or if Lynas’ current approvals were good enough.

“If they refuse to review the project then we will file a court case against it,” Atkinson promised.

Lynas’ letter of undertaking

Poet Laureate Samad Said (second from left)
at Himpunan Hijau 2.0
Meanwhile in another development, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said today that Lynas had given the government a letter of undertaking to send its rare earth processing residue abroad if it cannot find a suitable waste disposal site in Malaysia.

The Star Online reported Mustapa as saying that the move was taken as an assurance to the people’s psychological and emotional safety.

“Even though the government is satisfied there will be no radioactive residue produced during the plant’s operation, we have ordered Lynas to guarantee and plan the provision of a permanent waste disposal facility far from human population as recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Failing which, Lynas has already expressed willingness to take the residue out of Malaysia,” he said in a joint statement with Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob in Kuantan.

The report also quoted the minister as saying that the Western Australia Resources Minister Norman Moore had confirmed on Feb 29 that the rare earth’s radiation level was very low. “The fact is, the rare earth does not need to be controlled by Australia because it is not dangerous but in Malaysia, AELB is overseeing the project after considering the public’s opinion,” he added.

Mustapa said the government was urging Lynas to take extra care for the sake of the people, and not because of “threats by Himpunan Hijau” which had said it would hold another anti-Lynas rally if the government refuse to shut down the project.

Interviews following ANAWA/EDO submission of appeal to WA EPA today (audio recording)