Protest groups say Lynas undermining government

Posted on July 1, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

The MalaysianInsider-
KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Anti-Lynas groups in Kuantan have questioned the Australian miner’s confidence of being able to begin refining rare earths by the end of the year despite new conditions set that must be fulfilled by local authorities and not Lynas Corp itself.

“How can they speak on behalf of the government? I smell something is not right here,” said Andansura Rabu, chairman of the Beserah Anti-Rare Earth Action Group (Badar) representing residents who live as close as 2km to the controversial rare earths plant.

Nine of the 11 recommendations set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency-led (IAEA) review panel and agreed to by Putrajaya concern local regulator Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and the 11th requires the government to set out an action plan for the fulfilment of the other conditions.

File photo of a banner put up by Kuantan folk protesting against the building of the Lynas rare earths plant in Gebeng.
Andansura said that while Lynas can work closely with the Najib administration on the RM700 refinery that has raised fears of radiation pollution in the prime minister’s home state of Pahang, it was doubtful that after “three years of unanswered questions, they believe they can solve 11 new ones in six months.”

The Save Malaysia group also accused Lynas executive chairman Nicholas Curtis of being more concerned about “protecting his shareholders rather than the residents of Kuantan.”

“I don’t know how Lynas can commit AELB to comply to recommendations by the end of the year. These comments discredit the whole process,” its chairman Tan Bun Teet told The Malaysian Insider.

Lynas shares were down to A$1.81, shedding nearly 9 per cent of their value in the Australian stock market this morning despite Curtis’ denials that the project could be delayed by up to two years.

Andansura told The Malaysian Insider that although the report granted a conditional approval to Lynas, it was a moral boost for protestors who would take credit for the delays, saying that they were encouraged that further pressure could scupper the plant entirely.

Both Badar and Save Malaysia also said that the government should investigate a New York Times report claiming that Lynas’ rare earths plant in Gebeng is plagued by design problems and hazardous construction issues.

“Instead of letting Lynas just dismiss the report, the government should go in with its own experts to see if the report is true,” said Tan.

Andansura added that “if Lynas believes NYT has misreported, it should show proof and demand a retraction.”

Curtis had pledged that his company will comply with all 11 IAEA recommendations before the plant, which is more than 40 per cent complete, is fully commissioned by the end of 2011.

It has said that its plant — which will extract rare earth metals crucial for high-technology products such as smartphones, hybrid cars and wind turbines — will create a RM4 billion multiplier effect annually and will hire 350 skilled workers, 99 per cent of whom will be Malaysians.

Although reports say the plant may earn RM8 billion for Lynas, more than one per cent of the Malaysian GDP, critics have questioned the real economic benefit of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break the Australian company will enjoy due to its pioneer status.

The government has estimated investment spinoffs of RM2.3 billion from the plant, including the RM300 million already poured into two factories in the Gebeng industrial zone that will produce hydrochloric and sulphuric acid needed to extract the rare earth metals.

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