A photograph taken by volunteers underwater of an island off Pahang for the publicity use for Himpunan Hijau 109 (the previous Green Rally on Oct 9, 2011) which had attracted at least 5,000 people to reach Kuantan nationwide against Lynas rare earth refinery being built on Malaysia such a wet land.
Lester Kong, Malaysia Correspondent
The Straits Times Singapore
January 28, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR: A plan to dump radioactive waste from a controversial rare earth plant onto an island off Pahang has revived protests against it, just as the Malaysian government is expected to make a decision on the issue as early as next week.
Residents and a coalition of environmental groups are threatening to hold a rally near the site next month, ramping up demands to close down the plant built by Australian company Lynas Corp.
The outcry came after Lynas released waste management plans that showed a proposal to dump radioactive waste from the plant on an uninhabited island off Pahang. It also proposed building a permanent disposal facility on under-utilised or undeveloped land, or disused mining land. The plans were put on public display until this week.
The plant had sparked a huge controversy after it came to public attention last year, and could well become an election issue. Located in the seaside town of Gebeng, the RM2.5 billion (S$1.03 billion) refinery was aimed at capitalising on rising worldwide demand for rare earths, essential materials in many consumer electronics, including laptops and MP3 players.
The company had planned to start production at the refinery, which is 95 per cent completed, in September last year, but this was delayed by public protests. It has repeatedly maintained that the plant is safe.
Lynas has yet to secure an operating licence. International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed has said the Cabinet will decide by the end of this month whether to allow Lynas to start refining rare earths on a small scale, while continuing to undertake research on its potential impact on the environment.
Such a pre-operating licence, which would be valid for two years, would limit production while making the company prove that its waste material meets safety standards.
Atomic Energy Licensing Board director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan declined to confirm when it will make a recommendation for this licence, but stressed that Lynas' waste disposal plans have yet to be approved, and no sites have been identified yet.
'The most important thing is that everything should be done according to national and international standards and best practices. We will not compromise on this,' he said.
Plans for the Lynas plant had evoked memories of Malaysia's last rare earth refinery in Perak in the 1980s, whose radioactive waste was believed to have caused several cases of birth defects and leukaemia, necessitating a major environmental clean-up. It was closed in 1992.
Yesterday, the Green Rally 2.0, a coalition of environmental groups, said it will organise another protest after a rally last year was 'blatantly ignored' by the government.
Resident Jade Lee said her family was considering moving out of Pahang if Lynas goes ahead with its waste disposal plans for the island near the state.
'I know several families here who have relocated and have sold everything they own here,' said the statistician. 'We wanted to live here permanently, but this would dash our plans for the future.'
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The Straits Times Singapore