In Gebeng, a worker leads grassroots fight against Lynas

Posted on May 30, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider-

KUANTAN, May 30 — Andansura Rabu has taken the same route to work the past 18 years from his home in Balok Perdana.

But since 2009, it has not been a happy commute to work.

Andansura has watched Lynas Corp’s rare earth plant slowly take shape each day, bringing what he sees as the threat of radiation pollution ever closer.

“What can I do? I have lived here all this while,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

The residential area, where the health and safety manager lives with his wife and five children, was developed specifically to house workers for the Gebeng industrial zone.

When Australian miner Lynas began construction of its RM700 million rare earth plant two years ago, the residents of Balok were among the first to protest.

They are also the closest residents to the plant, some living just 2km from the refinery that will be ready to begin operations in September.

They formed the Badan Bertindak Anti-Rare Earth (Badar) which 45-year-old Andansura chairs, but their efforts came to nought.

“We had no expertise and we couldn’t argue on technical aspects. We nearly gave up by the end of the year,” he said.

Andansura said he and several other residents were ready to move from Gebeng and take up jobs in the Kemaman industrial area instead.

But the issue was reignited earlier this year after The New York Times highlighted the environmental gamble being taken in his backyard.

In recent weeks, green groups here and in Australia have been calling for the project to be nixed ahead of a scheduled September start, citing Lynas’ opaque plans on waste storage and transport management across 3,000km from the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia to the refinery in Gebeng.

The government bowed to public pressure last month and put on ice the plant being built by Lynas pending a month-long review by international experts.

Andansura will meet the nine-man panel with PAS’s Beserah assemblyman Syed Mohammed Tuan Lonnik tomorrow morning.

But with most Balok residents earning a living from other industrial activities, Badar is not going as an environmental group.

“Most of us work in petrochemical companies. We know the economic benefits of industrial projects versus the environmental costs. But this is radiation,” Andansura said.

Like others living in and around Kuantan, they fear a repeat of the radiation pollution from a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh.

Despite being shuttered nearly 20 years ago it is still linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal.

Those opposed to the plant see the series of meetings with the review panel as the best chance to scupper Lynas’ plans.

For Andansura, it is his last throw of the dice for his hopes of staying put in Gebeng.

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