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Friday, May 06, 2011 05:49 GMT
MALAYSIA:Radiation Fears Fuel Protest
by Baradan KuppusamyKUANTAN, Apr 18 (IPS) - Fears of radioactive poisoning have fuelled a protest against an Australian miningcompany building the world’s largest rare earth processing plant outside China.
The protest is directed at Lynas Corp., which will ship rare earth ore from its mine in Port Weld, Western Australia,for processing in the plant in Gebeng outside this city, a fishing port some 250 kilometres north of capital KualaLumpur.Protesters said the plant would produce high amounts of the radioactive waste thorium that will endanger them andfuture generations.Lynas Corp. and Malaysian government officials however said thorium content in the waste would be low and entirelymanageable, and that there would be no health issue because high technology and state-of-the-art radiationmonitors will be used to control emission.The company said it is planning to store the waste in "safe and hardened containers" at a 12-acre site close to theprocessing plant until a permanent solution is found.Kuantan City lawmaker Fuziah Salleh, who is leading the protest, refused to support any decision to store the wastewithin her constituency or anywhere else in Malaysia."Malaysia should not be the dumping ground for radioactive waste. We reject the waste and we want Australia totake back the waste," she told IPS.Lynas director of communication Matthew James said in a statement that radiation fears were unfounded becausethe Port Weld oxide is naturally low in thorium content."The Lynas raw material is safe, non-toxic and non-hazardous," James said.But Salleh rejected James’ assurance. "The thorium content is high," she said in a statement, adding Australianofficials had confirmed this to her.Rare earth minerals are used in precision equipment like laptops, flat screen television, mobile phones and missiles.Demand has been high since China, which controls 95 percent of the production, imposed export controls last Juneto conserve resources and supply the domestic market.Lynas plans to start production at Gebeng in September after getting a final processing permit from the government.The company expects to export rare mineral worth an estimated 4 billion ringgit 91.3 billion dollars) annually starting2012.What is further fuelling the protest against Lynas is Malaysia’s experience with another rare earth plant, this time innorthern Perak state, some 30 years ago.That plant near Bukit Merah Township was ordered shut down after higher than normal incidences of birth defectsand leukaemia surfaced among babies born to residents in the area.
- IPS Inter Press Servicehttp://ipsnews.net/text/news.asp?idnews=552911 of 25/6/2011 1:52 PM