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Australian miner targeted in Malaysian protest

May 22nd, 2011 Australia

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Malaysian protesters are demanding an Australian company abandons its planned rare earth minerals processing plant. They say it’s an environmental and health risk to the area. Lynas Corp rejects their argument and says its standards are safe and within the regulations.

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: Protesters have rallied outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, demanding that a rare earth processing plant being built by an Australian company be abandoned.

The plant, which is being built by Australia’s Lynas Corp, will refine rare earth minerals from West Australian iron ore.

But the material contains the low level radioactive element thorium, and Malaysian activists say Australia ought to process it at home.

Here’s our Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel reports.

ZOE DANIEL: The campaign against the Lynas plant seems to be gaining momentum.

Activists who have been voicing their opposition in the media have now held a rally outside the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

Spokeswoman Rozaini Mohammed Rosli says they submitted a memorandum to the High Commissioner explaining their concerns and demanding that the plant be stopped.

ROZAINI MOHAMMED ROSLI: Being an Australian company, the people of Malaysia would like the company to keep operating their own operations in Australia and not come here and set up any operation here of such.

ZOE DANIEL: The plant will process iron ore shipped from WA that contains the low level radioactive element thorium.

The lucrative rare earth minerals obtained will be used in high tech batteries, TVs, mobile phones and aviation technology.

Within two years the plant is expected to meet a third of world demand for the materials outside China and will yield $1.7 billion a year in exports.

But the activists say Malaysia doesn’t need it.

The country is still cleaning up an old Mitsubishi Chemicals rare earth plant at Bukit Merah that contaminated the area and caused birth defects and leukaemia in the population.

Rozaini Mohammed Rosli says another plant is not worth the risk.

ROZAINI MOHAMMED ROSLI: We don’t have a guarantee for the safety of the people in the future.

ZOE DANIEL: Do you think that it is realistic that the Malaysian government will stop the plant from going ahead when it’s at such an advanced stage?

ROZAINI MOHAMMED ROSLI: They have to be a responsible government. They have so far declined to expose any kind of information to the people. They should have consulted the people before engaging or even thinking of having such a plant in the country.

ZOE DANIEL: But do you realistically think that you can stop it now?

ROZAINI MOHAMMED ROSLI: We will try our best.

ZOE DANIEL: Is there anything that Lynas group do to alleviate your concerns?

ROZAINI MOHAMMED ROSLI: Yes, they can stop the plant from continuing.

ZOE DANIEL: But the Lynas plant is almost complete and should open before the end of the year.

In a statement, Lynas Corporation says that it respects the community’s right to speak out about the plant and welcomes the appointment of an independent panel to study the project.

This is Zoe Daniel reporting for Saturday AM.