200000 20000 people turned out for a mock referendum on Lynas Corporation’s rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Kuantan, reports Peter Boyle.
Some 99.9 per cent of some 20000 who voted in a mock referendum opposed the Lynas refinery.
Over the weekend of 14-15 July, communities in 30 locations around Malaysia participated in a National Day of Stop Lynas action against a rare earth refinery project being built in Malaysia by the Australian company, Lynas. Simultaneous solidarity actions took place in Australia – in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Roxby Downs (at the “Lizard’s Revenge” anti-nuclear music festival in the outback arid zone of South Australia).
The ore to be processed in this controversial refinery will be mined in Western Australia and shipped out, through the port of Fremantle, to Malaysia but Australia has refused to take back the toxic and radioactive waste produced in the refinery in the city of Kuantan.
Every year, at least 106 tonnes of radioactive thorium and a small quantity of uranium will be dumped amongst this waste along with an unknown cocktail of other substances.
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According to a 16 July statement by the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) coalition, the Lynas rare earth refinery plant was constructed “without any prior informed consent from local communities and citizens who will be getting the blunt end of the raw deal of permanent pollution risk whilst Lynas will be making a hefty profit tax-free”.
“Malaysians will be living under the shadow of radiation contamination forever from the world’s largest rare earth refinery built and managed by a company with no prior experience dealing with the complexity of rare earth pollution.”
To make matters worse, activists say the refinery is situated in a peat swamp area only 3.5km from the South China Sea, an important seafood and tourism area. There are approximately 700000 people living within 30km from the Lynas refinery.
Malysian environmental activists believe that Lynas is building the processing plant in Malaysia, instead of Australia, to cut costs and to avoid having to deal with stringent environmental regulations in Australia for containing toxic and radioactive waste.
If the waste is “safe”, as the company claims, then it should get sent back to Australia where the mining for the rare earth ore occurred. But when this option was raised in the WA parliament by the WA Greens, the WA minister for mines and petroleum, Norman Moore, firmly rejected the idea.
The Malaysian government has stubbornly failed to acknowledge and take on board its citizens’ concerns and strong opposition to the Lynas project despite ongoing public protests since the issue became widely known after its opponents organised the biggest-ever environmental protest in Malaysia last February.
With an eye to upcoming general elections in Malaysia, activists organised a mock referendum on the Lynas project over last weekend.
“An overwhelming 99.9 per cent of the 20000 over people who were eligible to vote opted for the Lynas project to be stopped. For so many people to come out to show their opposition, it is a clear indication that Malaysians are ready to vote wisely at the next election”, said Ram, an SMSL activist.
Tan Bun Teet, spokesperson for SMSL said that activists were “greatly encouraged by the strong support we got from other communities throughout the country and from Australia. The weekend results have restored many people’s determination to keep fighting the terrible decision made by the government.”
Malaysia had a bitter experience of an earlier rare earth refinery built in Bukit Merah in the state of Perak by the Japanese corporate giant, Mitsubishi. That plant was forced to close down after a drawn out political and legal battle that lasted a decade. Unfortunately, the local community suffered serious health effects over the years before the plant was forced to close in 1992.
“Given the Malaysian government’s mishandling and poor management of the Bukit Merah rare earth plant, it is ludicrous that we now have a plant at least ten times bigger with hundreds more times toxic waste to handle. It is on this basis that we as responsible tax-paying citizens will have to do everything possible to stop this madness.”