Malaysian activists picket Australian corporate polluter’s HQ

Protest outside Lynas corporate HQ in Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle

SYDNEY July 5 – It took a dozen resident activists from Kuantan, Malaysia a journey all the way to Sydney to launch a protest outside the headquarters of Lynas Corp, an Australian mining company building a radioactive waste producing rare earth refinery in their coastal city of 700,000, before they could have a face-to-face meeting with the company.

Lynas intends to export concentrated ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia through the port of Fremantle Malaysia and a powerful movement of local residents and environmental activists is opposing the operation because they fear the highly toxic and radioactive waste that will be left behind will poison the local people and their environment. (See “Malaysians resist Oz company’s toxic plan” ).

“This refinery is very harmful to the people and the environment”, Kuantan resident Haji Ismail Abu Bakar told Green Left Weekly at the protest.

“The 12 of us came here to get the sympathy of the people of Australia and to urge the government of Australia to stop Lynas operations in Gebeng, Kuantan.”

He said that residents feared that toxic and radioactive would escape from the refinery into the river and then into the sea. Because the wast would remain dangerously radioactive for millions of years, Haji Abu Bakar added, it would “affect generations to come”.

Delegation leader Professor Chee-Khoon Chan, an award-winning epidemiologist and health expert at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Malaya, told GLW that while the short meeting they had with Lynas CEO Nick Curtis and other company officials after their protest was not very fruitful, it was the first meeting the company has had with concerned local residents.

Earlier requests for community consultation had been met with offers from Lynas for a closed door meeting with the local MP Fuziah Salleh – an offer she has rebuffed.

Professor Chee said that he had reviewed the scientific studies about the effects of the radioactive waste that the rare earths refinery will produce and they indicated that workers and local residents significantly increased cancer risks as a result.

“The people of Kuantan don’t want to be experimental rats,” he said.

The issue had become entwined with global politics, Professor Chee added. Mitsubishi, the Japanese company which had operated an earlier rare earths refinery in Bukit Merah, Malaysia which was closed down after a 12-year fight by local residents, has bought a significant stake in Lynas while China, which currently has a 95% monopoly in rare earths production was also buying up Lynas shares.

The delegation met with Greens Senators Scott Ludlam and Lee Rhiannon as well as Labor Senator Doug Cameron in Canberra.

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