Lynas’ Controversial Rare Earth Refinery
“Real estate price will plunge, residents who are able to relocate will flee and those who are not will be in constant fear of radiation exposure.”
- Save Malaysia! Stop Lynas
Lynas Corporation is in a hurry to complete its $230 million rare earth processing plant which is situated 25km from the town of Kuantan in Malaysia. Once the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) is operational it is expected to meet over 30% of the global demand for rare earth materials outside of China. The refinery will be the world’s largest rare earth refinery and the first in nearly three decades to be finished outside China, where barely regulated factories have left vast toxic and radioactive waste sites.
With residents living within a 30km radius from the LAMP, the plant will require a massive amount of water and acid for processing the rare earth ore. Product waste will involve solid, gas and liquid substances:
- Every year the refinery will produce 91,600m3 of waste (WLP) containing radioactive elements which equals a football field four stories high.
- Every hour 99,344Nm3 of gaseous waste will be released into the atmosphere.
- Everyday the refinery will discharge up to 12,000m3 of waste water which is the equivalent to 5 Olympic size swimming pools.
The Malaysian Government and Lynas Cannot Be Trusted
The hastiness of the Malaysian government and Lynas to approve the LAMP without proper public consultation has stirred much anger in the community. Since the beginning, public disclosures from the Malaysian authorities and Lynas Corporation have been sparse and contradictory.
For example the Malaysian government informed the public that the LAMP was a clean and safe project and that it is a non-radioactive plant. But on May 21, 2011 it was revealed that Lynas paid a sum of money to the government as collateral in the event of any damage to the environment.
There is a also a great lack of confidence in Malaysian government enforcement agencies who are often seen as very weak especially in relation to the environment, infrastructure and workers occupational health and safety. Complaints of other industries in the Gebeng Industrial Estate where the LAMP is situated include dust and air pollution as well as tailings and chemical spills that flow into the nearby river. Simply relying on the public to file complaints is not good enough and the question remains as to whether Malaysian Government agencies are able to deal with monitoring and enforcement of radioactive waste from the LAMP.
Both the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia-Friends of the Earth Malaysia (SAM) were highly concerned that basic procedures such as an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and a Radiological Impact Assessment (RIA) were not carried out according to even the minimum standards. The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) stated in a media release in July 2011 that ‘the long-term waste management nor the possible contamination of surface water and atmosphere by radioactive waste material were addressed in the radiological impact assessment (RIA) report’.
A report released in June 2011 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the radiation safety aspects of the LAMP confirmed that the refinery required improvements, a further blow for Lynas and further concern for the local community.
Although the (IAEA) was welcomed by local community to review the safety of the Lynas project, there still remain many troubling uncertainties. The public also shared concerns with non-government organisations like CAP and SAM that members of this IAEA expert panel may not have been truly independent or impartial, because all of them appeared to be pro-nuclear power and energy.
The key health issues related to the radioactivity aspect of the project – that of internal emitters from low-radioactive particles ingested by humans – was inadequately dealt with by the IAEA. The massive hazardous waste and pollution problems were outside the scope of the IAEA review and therefore not addressed.
The IAEA report stated that the overall design and planned operations procedures of the LAMP met international standards yet the report did not examine construction details or engineering decisions involved in turning the design into a building. According an internal memo from current and former engineers the construction and design may have serious flaws. Problems include ‘structural cracks, air pockets and leaks in many of the concrete shells for 70 containment tanks, some of which are larger than double-decker buses.’. This causes serious concern for the workers who will be employed at the LAMP and to the surrounding communities.
 ‘Radiation Impact Assessment of Advanced Materials Plant , Gebeng Industrial Estate, Kuantan, Pehang’, June 2011
 International Review Mission on the Radiation Safety Aspects of a Proposed Rare Earths Processing Facility (The Lynas Project), International Atomic Energy Agency, 19 May – 2 June 2011