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Monday, May 30, 2011

Rivals nearly clash over rare earth project

Both pro- and anti-Lynas protesters nearly ended up in a free-for-all outside the hotel where the IAEA panel is meeting.

KUANTAN: While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was meeting over the Lynas rare earth plant at the Hyatt Regency here, there was tension brewing outside.

Both pro- and anti-Lynas groups were facing off each other. About 150 demonstrators gathered from the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group. Not to be outdone, a pro-IAEA panel group also gathered there with banners and placards proclaiming their support for both the panel and Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob.

Also present were three Umno assemblymen: Mohamad Sahfri Abdul Aziz (state executive councillor), Norolazali Sulaiman (Guai), and Mohd Zaili Besar (Panching).

The demonstrators also confronted Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh as she arrived to meet the team, asking her not to bring her 50,000 signature petition into the discussion.

She agreed to ask permission from the panel before presenting the petition.

The exchange between the two groups heated up and blows were nearly exchanged between a pro-panel supporter and Indera Mahkota MCA Youth chief David Choi.

However, the situation did not get out of control when a large number of light strike police force personnel intervened.

Choi, who has been against the rare earth project from the beginning, later told reporters that he had been kicked during the struggle.

The authorities then tried to usher both groups away, but they refused to move and waited outside the hotel until 4 pm.

Radiation pollution

The panel, formed by the IAEA, will meet with stakeholders until Thursday before beginning a month-long review to decide on the fate of the refinery and the risks of radiation pollution.

Environmental groups, both local and in Australia, have criticised the Lynas rare earth project, saying that the corporation’s plans for waste storage and transport management from Western Australia to the Gebeng industrial zone were not clear.

(The RM700 million refinery is being constructed by Australia’s Lynas Corporation.)

The government was forced to halt operations after the plant sparked an uproar among residents and environmentalists who feared it could be a repeat of the 1987 Bukit Merah disaster, which was linked to eight cases of leukaemia.

The plant, started by Mitsubishi Chemicals, was closed down but the area is still undergoing an RM300 million clean-up process.

Meanwhile, Fuziah criticised the Lynas independent review panel for lacking a holistic approach in its examination.

“The panel has admitted… there is no public health expert on the panel. Our stand is that no recommendation by the panel can be considered, no matter how thorough it it,” she said after meeting the panel.

She added that the recommendations could not be enforced because they were purely technical, and did not take into account environmental concerns.

She also handed the 50,000-signature petition to the panel.

However, MCA central committee member, Ti Lian Ker, advised against making snap judgments against the panel.

“These are areas which you should give them time to look into… we don’t need to demonstrate our dislike. Malaysians must show their maturity and ability to accept the situation in a responsible manner.”

The panel will meet with stakeholders until Thursday before beginning a month-long review to decide on the fate of the refinery and the risks of radiation pollution.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed has promised to make public the panel’s findings and recommendations in the interest of transparency.

He said concerns over health, safety and environmental aspects of the Lynas’ project had been expressed recently and that the government would never compromise public interest in handling the issue.

However, Lynas Corp does not expect its plans to be derailed regardless of the government review, and maintain that the plant is safe.

The plant anticipates revenue of RM8 billion per year from 2013 onwards thanks to the rare earth metals, which are used in the manufacture of high-technology products.

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