Lynas told to pack up and leave Malaysia

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Australian-based organisation Stop Lynas released a paper on August 28 criticising Australian rare earths company Lynas for operating without a social licence in Malaysia. The paper has been submitted to Lynas for response.

Lynas, whose processing plant in Kuantan is the focus of Malaysia’s largest environmental movement, is still under pressure as its two year temporary operating licence will soon expire. Communities across Malaysia are calling for the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant to be shut down.

Malaysian group Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) said on its website that “the fact that it has been in operation without the social contract for almost two years and had generated a lot of solid wastes including that of radioactive waste is undeniable. Despite the fact the government has granted it a two-year temporary licence, people’s immediate concern is whether this plant’s operations had been monitored adequately and the radioactive wastes generated managed safely.”

The paper cites SMSL’s claim that “Lynas has not disclosed to the public the location of the permanent deposit facility or how solid wastes will be treated. SMSL is also concerned about the company’s financial ability to “honour its pledge to the government to remove the waste”, in particular in the case of foreclosure.

The company is facing liquidity issues and has reportedly requested an extension from five years to seven years to deliver a US $50 million security deposit. In July, CEO Amanda Lacaze announced that Lynas would be moving its headquarters from Sydney to Malaysia to cut costs.

Stop Lynas spokesperson Natalie Lowrey said: "Lynas states on its website that 'it is engaged in a large public consultation program involving local residents, community leaders, villagers and their families', this is simply not true.

"Malaysians first learnt from a New York Times article in March 2011 that the world's largest rare earth processing plant was under construction in an industrial estate very close to the Kuantan Port, several kilometres from the South China Sea. The plant was constructed quietly since 2008 with no community consultation — community is firmly opposed to the rare earths project."

There is broad opposition to the processing plant. Campaigners gathered 1.2 million signatures on a petition within 36 days. In June this year over 1000 people held a protest outside the plant.

Sixteen people were arrested, including Lowrey, who was detained for six days and released without charge. The 15 Malaysians arrested face trial on September 2, the same day the temporary licence expires and when the Malaysian government is expected to decide on the approval of the permanent licence.

Kuantan resident Seet Ping said: "The [Lynas plant] was quietly built in our backyards without us knowing about it and, day by day, the toxic radioactive wastes are piling up in open storage ponds in the plant, which is situated in a low-lying swampy area exposed to yearly extreme monsoon weathers.

“How could it be acceptable and safe for the world's largest rare earth refinery to operate without a permanent waste disposal facility? A government who cares for the wellbeing of its people will not issue the full operating stage licence to Lynas to allow them to continue to pollute our environment and harm our children. We want Lynas to pack up, clean up and get out of Malaysia.”

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From GLW issue 1023