KUALA LUMPUR – October 2, 2018: Controversy continues to haunt the Lynas rare earth refining plant in Kuantan, with the livelihood of its almost entirely local workforce at risk.
This has nothing to do with the alleged harmful radiation emitted by its operations but more on the potential bias of a government committee tasked to review the operations.
At today’s press conference, Lynas Corporation Limited chief executive officer Amanda Lacaze said the main concern was because the committee is headed by one of Lynas’ loudest critics, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh of PKR.
Should the government shut down the plant, Malaysia stands to lose at least RM66 million worth of investment that has been allocated this year while the local economy could lose an annual income of RM500 million.
“We think that any policy and regulation should be scientifically based, objective, fair and just. Ninety-seven per cent of our workers are Malaysians,” she said, adding that the plant has about 650 workers.
“The impact (if Lynas were to close shop) would be significant because like any other businesses, Lynas has its indirect employees and economic multiplier effect that exists within the nearby communities,” said Lacaze.
According to the Malaysia Australia Business Council, Australian businesses have invested almost RM30 billion in Malaysia at end 2017, including in manufacturing, services, agribusiness, resources and the digital economy.
Lynas gained notoriety following the infamous green assembly in 2012, during which protestors expressed supposed fear of radiation contamination at the plant. Leading the protest were Fuziah and Bentong MP Wong Tack.
The anti-Lynas group had often cited the radioactive poisoning at Bukit Merah, Perak, in the 90s as the main reason for their protest. In that incident, locals blamed a rare-earth refining plant for birth defects and leukemia cases that had happened throughout its five-year of operations.
In reiterating how harmless Lynas’ plant is, Lacaze pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency had classified its operations as intrinsically low-risk and that one is exposed to greater radiation when boarding a flight as compared to working in the Lynas plant.
“There are 176 babies born to our staff and I can tell you that every single one of them is beautiful. We do not have any (cases of) genetic mutations and the fish in our pond (at the plant) do not glow in the dark,” she quipped.
In the run-up to the 14th general elections on May 9, The Mole visited the Balok river in Gebeng which was the disposal site of Lynas’ radioactive treated waste.
However, during a short trip by a small boat, it was observed that there were neither visible signs of mangrove trees dying nor was there any peculiar physical mutations forming on the fishermen’s catches.
This was so despite the fact that the plant has been producing over 11,000 tonnes of rare-earth oxides per annum since it started a year after the protest.
Fishermen Raja Hamas Raja Harith, who sells his catches at a nearby market at the Belok estuary, told of how he has yet to catch any mutant fishes or misshapen squids since the protest.
“The department of environment will take water samples from 12 checkpoints along the river every month and so far they told us that we have nothing to fear,” said another fisherman, Ilyas Isa.