Cops, rain fail to douse anti-Lynas march

Posted on May 20, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider- UPDATED @ 06:03:26 PM 20-05-2011
By Boo Su-Lyn
May 20, 2011

The protestors brave the rain during the protest. — Pictures by Jack Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — About 250 anti-Lynas Corp lobbyists braved the rain and heavy police presence here today to protest against the construction of the Australian miner’s RM700 million rare earth refinery in Kuantan.

Faced with a barricade of riot police, scores of policemen and seven police trucks in Jalan Yap Kwan Seng here, the protestors — some of whom had travelled from Kuantan — continued to shout “Stop Lynas!” as they expressed concerns over possible radiation pollution from the plant that is touted to be the biggest in the world upon completion.

“Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas” public relations committee member Clement Chin told The Malaysian Insider the Kuantan residents had travelled here this morning in six buses.

Lynas has said its rare earth concentrate, which it plans to export to Gebeng in Kuantan from Australia, contains less than 500 parts per million (ppm) of thorium and only 300 ppm of uranium — another radioactive element in demand for its nuclear potential.

But Lynas chief executive Nicholas Curtis admitted to The Malaysian Insider in an interview last month the concentrate to be shipped to Malaysia has 1,600 ppm of thorium, which he insisted was not considered by Australia to be radioactive material or “under its transportation guidelines to require even notification as being radioactive”.

The Australian company has also insisted that the waste product will be low in thorium, the radioactive element found in nearly all rare earth deposits.

The protestors today, however, were not convinced with Lynas’ repeated assurances of safety.

“Go back to Australia! Save Malaysia! We are not lab rats!” shouted the protestors, most of whom were dressed in black T-shirts printed with a yellow anti-nuclear logo and the words “Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas!”

Another view of the protest outside the Australian High Commission in Jalan Yap Kwan Seng.

The protestors chanted as they hoisted placards reading “No radiation. Save our children”, “TAK NAK kilang kanser di Gebeng (Don’t want cancer factory in Gebeng)” and “Lynas, go back to Australia”.

Some held yellow umbrellas printed with the anti-nuclear logo to shield them from the rain that pelted down on them at the site of the protest in the city centre, a stone’s throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers, for about half an hour this afternoon.

Many of the protestors were Malays who chanted “Hancur Lynas. Hidup rakyat” (Lynas be destroyed. Long live the people) in front of impassive riot police and a swarm of photographers and reporters on the busy road.

Steve Hang, a 27-year-old Kuantan resident, told The Malaysian Insider that he took a bus at about 7.30am to join the protest some 260km from his home.

“We do not want Lynas to be operating in our homeland. Too dangerous for us to take the risk,” said the businessman.

Factory worker Mohd Rahimi Mohd Ali, who drove from Temerloh, echoed Hang’s fears.

The 24-year-old man told The Malaysian Insider that he was scared despite living some 140km from the Lynas plant in Gebeng.

“Radioactive content can be blown by the wind,” said Rahimi.

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh and Kuantan residents’ group Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas chairman Vincent Jiam handed a memorandum to the Australian High Commission here during the protest.

“We are not convinced by the assurances of LAMP (Lynas Advanced Material Plant) and others allied to their cause that the LAMP is safe,” said the memorandum.

Fuziah told reporters that Lynas was taking advantage of loopholes in Malaysia’s environmental laws.

“We do not have stringent environmental laws here,” said the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmaker, pointing out that the Lynas project was not even regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Fuziah also said she would likely not be convinced by an independent panel of nuclear experts affiliated to Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that is set to arrive here on May 29 for a month-long review of Lynas’ operations plan.

“They represent experts who are pro-nuclear,” said the PKR MP.

The government bowed to public pressure on April 22 and put the project on ice pending the panel’s review.

However, Lynas expects no delay to its plans to begin operations in September as it maintains the plant is safe.

It is anticipating a windfall of RM8 billion a year from 2013 onwards from the rare earth metals that are crucial to the manufacture of high-technology products such as smartphones, hybrid cars and bombs.

Fuziah told The Malaysian Insider that representatives of the Australian High Commission had informed her that it was the Malaysian authorities who had the power to stop construction of the Lynas plant.

“(But) they promised to report to their government in detail about our concerns,” she said.

Western Australian lawmaker Lynn MacLaren issued a statement last Wednesday calling the state transport minister to halt planned exports of the rare earths containing radioactive thorium-232 through Fremantle port.

The member for the South Metropolitan Region noted that Lynas was planning to process its rare earths mined in Mount Weld into a concentrate that would raise its thorium levels to 1,500 ppm, which she said barely passed the acceptable level before triggering a special export licence criterion for hazardous materials.

Jiam told reporters after submitting the memorandum today that Kuantan residents wanted Lynas to leave before National Day on August 31.

“What good is independence when we’ve lost our liberty?” he asked.

Those opposing the plant fear a repeat of the radiation pollution from a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh.

The Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Perak has been linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal.

Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the plant is still the subject of a massive RM300 million cleanup exercise.

The strong police presence fails to deter the protestors.

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