Lynas determined to proceed with rare earths processing plant | Asia Pacific

Lynas determined to proceed with rare earths processing plant

Lynas determined to proceed with rare earths processing plant

Updated 19 November 2012, 21:57 AEDT

Members of a Malaysian group opposed to a rare earth processing plant being set up by the Australian company, Lynas, are in Australia to protest outside the company's annual general meeting in Sydney tomorrow.

The minority Australian Greens Party are supporting the protestors and have raised concerns about the possiblity of waste from the site being sent back to Australia.

Correspondent: Stephanie March

Speakers: Tan Bunteet, Stop Lynas - Save Malaysia Movement; Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens senator; Nick Curtis, Lynas CEO

MARCH: The Australian company Lynas is has been working for years to open its rare earth processing plant near the Malaysian city of Kuantan. It faces strong opposition from some local residents, who are worried about the risks posed by the radioactive material used at the plant.

Tan Bunteet is with the Stop Lynas - Save Malaysia Movement.

TAN: I'm a grandfather, I'm extremely concerned about the future of my grand children.

MARCH: That's not all Tan Bunteet is worried about.

TAN: Particularly, at this juncture, I'm very worried the relationship that's going to develop between Malaysia and Australia, if the Lynas project is allowed to go on. Currently, people are very angry with Lynas and there're proposals from the grassroots level, that should Lynas be given the green light to continue with the operation, there'll come a time when people are so angry, that they will start to boycott all Australian produce.

MARCH: Members of the Stop Lynas - Save Malaysia movement are in Australia to protest at the company's Annual General Meeting to be held in Sydney. They've also met with members of the minority Greens Party, who're not only concerned about the development in Malaysia, but also the possiblity of radioactive waste from the plant being shipped back to Austrlaia.

Lynas has applied to the Australian regulatory authority - known as ARPANSA - for a permit to send the by-product back.

Scott Ludlam is a Greens Senator and a member for the area in Western Australia, where the material would most likely be returned back to.

LUDLAM: I think it is a ruse. I don't think the company has any intention of doing so. It's an alarmingly bad idea, if that is their proposal. I just object to the idea they would be trying to hoodwink local residents into thinking they have a safe dumping stratefgy for Australia, when we know that that would be formidably difficult.

MARCH: Senator Ludlam says while it would be difficult for the company to get the approvals required to ship the by-product back, it would not be impossible.

LUDLAM: I think it's unprecedented, it's actually illegal at Western Australian law, unless these hurdles are jumped over. So I don't want the company to have this "Get out of Jail" free card, where they're telling residents, "Don't worry, we're not going to be dumping it here, we're taking it back to Australia, when in fact, there're formidable legal hurdles in place of them doing that. And I would suggest stiff opposition from the community in Fremantle and probably elsewhere up the transport corridoor.

MARCH: Lynas CEO Nick Curtis says the company did make the application to ARPANSA in the hope of shipping the by-product back and on-selling it to be recycled. But he says, that is no longer the company's plan.

CURTIS: We've ceased looking for the contracts temporarily in Australia, because we think the logistics of shipping mean that if we were to export the material from Malaysia, shipping it to Thailand or Indonesia is clearly cheaper for us. So it's a commercial marketing imperative to say I'm sure Australia will be destination. The aplication with Arpansa was put in on the basis that we were talking to some fairly significant groups in Australia about using that material. Commercial terms have not been reached on that, we haven't bothered to pursue the application at this point, but it remains on hold.

MARCH: Mr Curtis says the company has permits to store the waste Malaysia for the sort and long term, but it's looking at opportunities to recycle the material in-country for industrial use.

CURTIS: We think that's the appropriate environmental practice and we intend to do that. We're well advanced in our research. We know there are markets for a form of our residue, not the exact residue as it stands, we will in fact and are, in fact building a pilot plant on site, to test this material now, make a batch of it, so that we can actually present it to potential customers and sell it. That is our intention, we're working actively on it.

MARCH: Last week, a Malaysian court dismissed an application to suspend the company's operating licence. The protestors are appealing the decision, and Tan Bunteet says the judgement hasn't shaken their resolve.

TAN: We are not worried about losing that battle - you win some, you lose some. But we will fight on until we get rid of Lynas from Malaysia.

MARCH: But Lynas CEO Nick Curtis' resolve seems just as strong.

CURTIS: Every regulation has been met in Malaysia, the project is safe. However, there is a system in Malaysia that rightly allows people to take their grievances to court. We can't predict how long this particular group want to try and use the court and I'm not going to try and pre-empt the Court's decisions on anything. We will simply turn up and state our case on an ongoing basis, and fairly and squarely, deal with the issues and we're perfectly confident that we're safe in that.

MARCH: He says the project is on track to come online in December.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.