May 9, 2012
Report from Reuters:
Lynas officials say they are confident the plant will win approval in coming months. Opponents suspect the government is waiting until after the election to approve the plant at a less sensitive time.
"The timing could be all too convenient," said Fuziah Salleh, a local opposition member of parliament who has thrown her weight behind the protest movement. "Basically it is a delay tactic until approval."
GEBENG, Malaysia (Reuters) - The expensive machinery lies silent, idling as Malaysia's government weighs a delicate decision to allow shipments of raw material to arrive from Australia and finally start operations at the world's largest rare earths plant outside China.
At the industrial estate on the country's east coast, 20 or so protesters gathered in the searing afternoon heat have begun a chant. "No to Lynas. Lynas go home!".
The handful of demonstrators seems an unlikely obstacle to plans by Australia's Lynas Corp to build its company-making 2.5 billion ringgit ($800 million) plant, seen as crucial to challenging China's near monopoly on the production of rare earths, used in items ranging from smartphones to smart bombs.
But the expanding protest movement they represent, feeding off broader frustrations with Malaysia's government as elections loom, has already delayed the project by eight months and cast a shadow over its future.
The resistance - fed by social networks and Malaysia's increasingly lively independent online media - also raises broader questions over the global expansion of an industry that has created huge environmental problems in China, which currently accounts for about 95 percent of global supply.
"Western countries don't want it. Why should we in Malaysia?," said Norizan Mokhtar, who lives less than 10 km (6 miles) from the plant in the industrial area of Gebeng, close to fishing villages and Kuantan, a city of half a million people.
"My youngest is six, the effects might not be seen now but in the future. We eat fish every day, what if there is radiation?"
She's afraid controls on the plant will become slack after the first few years.
Lynas has been plagued by delays and controversy in Malaysia since it broke ground on the plant two years ago with the aim of easing China's grip on the supply of rare earths and capitalizing on rising prices for the material.
Its share price has halved since early last year as investors worry that it will lose out in the race to feed surging world demand.
Lynas has orders covering its first 10 years of production. Japan, the world's biggest consumer of rare earths, is counting on Lynas to supply 8,500 tonnes a year by early 2013.
"Our customers are waiting," Mashal Ahmad, the managing director of the Lynas plant, told reporters during a tour of the plant for media last month.
"We have nothing to hide," he said, adding that "too much misinformation" had been spread about the company.
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