MEDIA RELEASE | Friday 16 August 2019

AUSTRALIA | Yesterday, Australian rare earth producer Lynas Corporation has been granted conditional six-month licence extension by the Malaysian Government. However, environmental and human rights non-government organisations in Australia have joined their counterparts in Malaysia in expressing grave concerns at this decision.

Lynas owns and operates a rare earth mine in Western Australia and ships lanthanide concentrate from its Mount Weld mine to Malaysia to its controversial secondary processing plant to extract rare earth oxides and carbonates for its Japanese and Chinese customers. This process leaves behind an enormous amount of toxic waste laced with thorium, uranium, heavy metals and other chemicals.

Friends of the Earth AustraliaAID/WATCH, together with Australian chapters of Malaysian BERSIH Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections and Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Melbourne (SABMOZ) have responded to a petition that has gained momentum in Malaysia demanding that Australia suspends Lynas’ rare earth export to Malaysia because Lynas has no safe disposal facility for its radioactive waste.

Dr Jim Green, Friends of the Earth Australia commented, “In the seven years of production in Malaysia, Lynas has generated nearly 600,000 tonnes of radioactive waste[1] with nowhere safe to store. Currently, this waste is stacked up in open dams in a low-lying peat mangrove prone to floods and peat fires.”[2] 

“This is sub-standard radioactive waste management. Australia must not allow this kind of unsafe accumulation of toxic radioactive waste in Malaysia by Lynas.”

For decades, Australian mining companies have been particularly notorious in causing catastrophic environmental problems in developing countries.[3] Australian law has yet to include conditions whereby companies’ operations overseas should adhere to the same standard as they would be required to do in their home country.  

Natalie Lowrey, Coordinator, AID/WATCH stated, “We are disappointed that the Malaysian Government has not suspended Lynas’ operations even though it has violated its license conditions and has yet to locate a site or a definite plan for its radioactive waste. There is still no end in sight as to how Lynas would safely dispose of its radioactive waste.”

“We are particularly concerned that the Australian High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur Mr Andrew Goledzinowski, has gone beyond his diplomatic duty to explicitly support Lynas through his media statements in Malaysia.[4] He seems oblivious to the fact that Western Australia has expressed a preference for Lynas to process its rare earth ore locally, where expertise and infrastructure are available, and regulations are more strictly enforced as compared with a debt-ridden struggling democracy like Malaysia.” remarked Ms Lowrey.

Last year, Malaysia had a change of government ending over 60 years of political stranglehold by the National Front Coalition or Barisan National (BN). Malaysians have voted for the Pakatan Harapan Coalition Government following the world-wide 1MDB corruption scandal linked to the former Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Voters’ discontent with the Najib Government also included public anger over its approval for the Lynas rare earth project in 2012.

“Lynas has been a target of strong and sustained protest since 2011 when it was still under construction in Malaysia, this has included years of international solidarity.”[5] said Ms Lowrey.

“Lynas has failed to deliver a a detailed environmental impact assessment, has no proper public consultation or a clear radioactive waste disposal site and plan. Simply put, Lynas has never had a social licence to operate – this would never be allowed here in Australia.”

 “We are also concerned that both the Australian federal government and the Western Australian state government have rejected out-of-hand accepting Lynas’ radioactive waste back into Australia, even though the rare earth ores were mined and exported from WA and Malaysia has neither the capacity nor the climatic condition and landscape to house a Permanent Disposable Facility for the radioactive waste, which has a half-life of 14 billion years!” Ms Lowrey concluded.

 

For more information:

Natalie Lowrey, AID/WATCH
natalie.lowrey[at]gmail.com, +61 421 226 200

Jim Green, Friends of the Earth Australia
jim.green[at]foe.org.au, +61 417 318 368

 

NOTES

[1] ‘Lynas hit by fresh allegations of ‘illegal’ waste storage’, Sydney Morning Herald, April 19, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/lynas-hit-by-fresh-allegations-of-illegal-waste-storage-20190419-p51fmn.html

[2] ‘Lynas must remove its radioactive wastes from Malaysia’, Malaysiakini, June 14, 2019, https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/479589

[3] Both Australian-owned BHP and Rio Tinto have been caused catastrophic environmental and human rights disasters at their mines in Papua New Guinea. BHP Ok Tedi mine, Western Province, PNG: ‘OK Tedi Mining blamed for Health epidemic in Western Province’, EMTV, November 18, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I00sdNaMIG8; ‘Toxic time bomb’ awaits Ok Tedi, ABC Science, September 5, 2008, https://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/09/05/2356711.htm; and Rio Tinto’s Paguna mine in Bougainville that resulted in brutal Civil War from 1989-1997 which claimed the lives of up to 20 000 people, and tens of thousands more were displaced: ‘Rio Tinto walks away from environmental responsibility for Bougainville’s Panguna mine’, Mongabay, April 6, 2017. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/rio-tinto-walks-away-from-environmental-responsibility-for-bougainvilles-panguna-mine/; ‘Rio Tinto’s billion-dollar mess: ‘unprincipled, shameful and evil’’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 19, 2016.

https://www.smh.com.au/world/billiondollar-mess-a-major-disaster-the-people-do-not-deserve-to-have-20160817-gquzli.html

[4] ‘Australian high commissioner should not be Lynas’ mouthpiece’, Letter from Wong Tack, MP for Bentong in Malaysia, Malaysiakini, May 29, 2019. https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/477859;

[5] ‘Arrests at Malaysian Rare Earths Refinery Protests’, The Diplomat, June 27, 2014. https://thediplomat.com/2014/06/arrests-at-malaysian-rare-earths-refinery-protests/; ‘Malaysia police recommend charges meaning Australian faces 2 years’ jail’, The Guardian, June 26, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/26/malaysia-police-confirm-two-years-jail-looms-for-australian-activist; ‘Rare earths and our insatiable appetite for digital memory’, The Conversation, November 29, 2013. https://theconversation.com/rare-earths-and-our-insatiable-appetite-for-digital-memory-20938; Lynas plant on line, protests to continue, Sydney Morning Herald, December 1 2012, https://www.smh.com.au/business/lynas-plant-on-line-protests-to-continue-20121130-2amf0.html

 

 

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