SMSL & Malaysian NGOs Statement against LYNAS

lynasDear Mr Prime Minister,

Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) together with the undersigned civil society organisations of Malaysia, would like to strongly implore you as the Malaysian Prime Minister and to immediately suspend the licence issued to Lynas and to stop any shipment of rare earth ore concentrate into Malaysia.

The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng is the world’s largest rare earth refinery project owned by speculators with no real experience in industrial processing or rare earth.  Rare earth refining is linked with serious pollution and health risks.  The plant is located in a densely populated area unlike most industrial estates.  The closest housing estate is a mere 2km from the plant and within a 30km inland radius live 700,000 people.

The LAMP is the world’s biggest rare earth refinery owned by a lone-project speculative company with no previous experience.  Its design is based on the Chinese technology. Yet approval and an operating license were given without due consideration into the full extent of its impact which will only be uncovered through a detailed EIA.

Lynas would not be allowed to construct a plant similar to the LAMP with its associated waste management plan anywhere in Australia. Currently, several other rare earth proposals are being considered in Australia.  All of them are committed to adopting a zero-waste water discharge policy and having their radioactive waste returned to the mine site for proper disposal. Clearly, Lynas has not been transparent in claiming that its LAMP project is of international standard.

Specifically we would like to draw your attention to the following facts:

  • Serious construction problems of the LAMP - 22 concrete tanks in the processing area was defective and will result in corrosive and radioactive materials leaking onto the plant floor and into the ground eventually.  These tanks were not moisture-proof, which is a standard engineering practice for this kind of plant.  It is especially essential in a damp swampy environment. We have and continue to receive confidential accounts of failed electrical wiring and installation, failed hydro tests where major tanks with structural cracks and leaks were detected, broken underground water pipes that need to be redone and so forth. A large section of the plant has sunk.  Many of these defects could not be easily fixed or safely repaired. Lynas is believed to have grossed over the problem and have summarily covered up the defects.  The full extent of the construction defects and design problems can only be uncovered by a thorough independent engineering audit.
  • The absence of a scientific consensus on what is a safe dose of radiation exposure– There are increasing medical and scientific evidence that prolonged exposure to low-dose radiation is harmful.  Lynas has conveniently ignored this risk and the IAEA had grossed over this point without any substantiated reason. The responsible approach under this circumstance is to adopt the precautionary principle of no safe dose and to impose a zero discharge strategy to minimize risks.
  • Lynas will not be able to return the waste to Australia or to a third country. The Western Australian Government has stated TWICE publicly declared it will not accept any of Lynas’ waste from Malaysia – refer to the attached scanned copy of the official statement from the Hansard.  At the end of 20 years, Lynas will be dumping 10 million tonnes (wet weight) of solid radioactive waste that will be hazardous for longer than the lifespan of planet earth.  This is NOT in Malaysia’s national interest.
  • No safe permanent site for the storage of radioactive waste. The failure of the AELB in managing the radioactive waste from the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah casts serious doubt that Malaysia has the capacity to safely manage such hazardous waste. Lynas’ solid waste contains many other hazardous substances and heavy metals which should be carefully managed and disposed of.  They should NOT be allowed to be commercialized either as gypsum or as a fertiliser.
  • No Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) - Serious water contamination by the discharging of 500 tonnes of contaminated water every hour into the important mangrove habitat of the Balok River. Air pollution caused by Lynas’ proposed “air dispersion” technique which is a cheap and unsafe way to disperse the polluting gases into the atmosphere. The refinery plant is located on top of a peatland when cleared is prone to floods and fires. The huge amount of fuel, concentrated acids and other combustible substances which will be kept in the LAMP premises will become fire hazards.
  • Need for a Socio-economic impact study (SIA). - The strong and persistent protest actions against the Lynas project is a clear indication of the threats the project poses to local communities. Our fears are due to the potential loss of a safe environment to live in; potential loss of incomes, and decline in the tourism industry as well as the property market. Furthermore outward migration of families from well-educated and high socio-economic background from Kuantan will lead to a further brain-drain of people who have invested for over a generation and contributed much to the prosperity and development of the town and the state.
  • Lynas’ unrealistic timeline & incompetence.  Lynas has promoted an unrealistically early production date for September of 2011 to be the first outside of China to supply rare earth oxides.  In truth Lynas has conveniently deceived its investors by attributing the delay to the protests and the licensing delay.  The AELB has persistently assisted Lynas by making contradictory public statements both declaring the granting of the licence for the benefit of Lynas just to deny it in another time to appease the angry Malaysian public.  Had Lynas admitted to its own failure, its stock would have slipped to a dangerously low value potentially sending Lynas to bankruptcy.
  • Economic activities spin off from the LAMP will be limited - Socially responsible and ecologically conscious corporations and investors will not want to associate its operations with or next to a controversial hazardous plant like the LAMP. Decent companies with a clean and green reputation will not risk locating their plants close to the LAMP nor source their supply from Lynas.
  • Malaysia risks gaining a bad reputation as a haven for toxic projects.  The massive amount of waste, in particular contaminated air (90,000 cubic metre an hour) and water (500 tonnes an hour), which will be discharged into the natural environment has the potential to contaminate a wider area of coverage thereby posing potential threat to lives in the neighbouring countries. By accepting and facilitating the Lynas project. Malaysia has essentially opened its door to polluting industry escaping tighter scrutiny and carbon tax from industrialised developed countries forced to cut down their carbon pollution from the threat of climate change.
We therefore strongly appeal to you to immediately cancel all LYNAS operations based on the clearly serious life threatening consequences it has on the lives and environment of all peoples in Malaysia.

SAVE MALAYSIA STOP LYNAS (SMSL)

* The above appeal was prepared by the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas campaign and Pusat Komas. The Centre for Policy Initiatives, together with many other NGOs, endorses this letter.