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Malaysians protest Australian rare earths plant

by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) May 20, 2011
More than 150 people demonstrated Friday in the Malaysian capital against an Australian rare earths refinery they say will endanger residents and the environment.

The protesters gathered outside the Australian High Commission under a heavy police presence, holding posters that read "Too toxic! Too risky!" and "We don't want Lynas" and "Lynas, go back to Australia."

Lynas is the Australian company that is building a rare earths plant near the town of Kuantan in the eastern state of Pahang.

The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) was scheduled to begin processing rare earths -- used in high-tech products from iPods to missiles -- in the third quarter of 2011.

Following public concern that the plant could produce radioactive waste, the government said last month it would not issue a pre-operating licence to Lynas and bar imports of raw materials from Australia to be processed at the facility, pending a review by an independent panel of UN atomic energy experts.

"We, the residents of Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia are extremely concerned over the proposed construction and operation" of the plant, Vincent Jiam, chairman of the Save Malaysia Committee, said in a memorandum sent to the Australian High Commission (embassy).

The protesters also appealed to the embassy to stop the plant or at least take back the radioactive waste they say it will produce.

Lynas said in a statement that it welcomed the government's review and insisted that its storage plans for the rare earths and waste at the plant were safe and represented no hazard to the community.

"The Radiological Impact Assessment completed by Nuclear Malaysia (Malaysia's atomic agency) on the storage of these residues shows them to be safe, posing no risk to the public," it said.

"However, Lynas has taken the additional safety step of placing these residues in safe, reliable engineered storage cells that are designed so that there is no possibility for any leakage of material into the environment."

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Beijing (AFP) May 19, 2011
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