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Malaysian activist Bang Seet Ping, member of the Himpunan Hijau group (Green Assembly) organized a boycott campaign against Australian Lynas Corporation, which processes rare earths in the Asian country and produces radioactive material as waste. Almost three years after beginning operations, there isn´t a waste management plan.
"Don´t buy from anyone who buys from Lynas; companies shouldn´t sell inputs to Lynas", said Bang to Real World Radio.
Lynas owns a rare earths processing plant in Gebeng, Kuantan in the state of Pahang. The raw materials come from Australia and their processing provides at the same time the raw materials to produce cell phones, TVs and "clean technologies", among other products. It leaves behind liquid, gas and solid waste, among them radioactive thorium, which are of grave concern to the community.
The inhabitants of Gebeng found out about the construction of the plant when the project was almost 90 per cent completed. The company started operating in November, 2011.
Bang was born and raised in the city of Kuantan. She continues to live with her husband and her two children in the same city. In an interview with Real World Radio, as part of the solidarity mission held by Friends of the Earth International in Pahang from September 21-25 to verify the situation of persecution against environmental defenders, she expressed her ongoing concern over the safety of her family and the community. In this sense, she made special reference to the fear of serious health problems if the plant is allowed to continue operations as is.
Bang believes the government and the company have not dealt with the issue of safety in an adequate way. She highlighted that the Green Assembly started to study the case and ask questions to the government, but the few responses they got are not nearly satisfactory. They say the plant is safe and that we should trust them. “Would you believe?”, asked the activist.
She also complained about the fact that Lynas refinery, the largest rare earths refinery in the world, was granted in September this year a full operation permit, after having a temporary one for nearly three years, even when the company does not have a waste management plan. "We are educated people, you don´t bluff us. We have done our research, we have engineers in the team, we have medical doctors, so many people, knowledgeable people. So you don’t lie to us and tell us this is safe".
One of Lynas’s responses has been that they don´t need a waste disposal facility because they will recycle the waste. In this sense, the company has proposed to process its radioactive waste and polluted residues with heavy metals and other dangerous substances to turn them into commercial inputs such as fertilizers and construction materials, for instance. Bang also stated that the International Atomic Energy Agency requires industries to have a processing plant for radioactive waste before granting them an operation license.
The Green Assembly´s activist also said that the climate in the area, with massive floods and the usual monsoons, could affect the area where the industry is located, where the residues can flow into the waters and pollute the ecosystem.
Bang believes that the explanations given by the government and the company don´t make any sense and are insulting the intelligence of the local community.
She also rejected the argument of development and job opportunities used by the government and Lynas to defend the installation of the plant. Bang highlighted that Kuantan is a coastal city. Tourism would be a better option than pushing for this project owned by an Australian company. "Kuantan has so much potential. One hotel alone can already provide 350 jobs. Why do we need this plant", said Bang.
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