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A 'bad year' for Lynas Corporation
A 'bad year' and 'a testing time' for everyone is how the executive chairman of Australian miner, Lynas Corporation has summed up the last 12 months.

A bad year and a testing time is the way the executive chairman of Australian miner Lynas Corporation has summed up the last 12 months.

The company's rare earths processing plant in Malaysia has been plagued by legal and environmental disputes. But it's finally scheduled to fire up early next month with Lynas planning to export by-products to Indonesia and Thailand.

Kate Arnott reports.
Transcript
PROTESTERS: Stop Lynas! Stop Lynas! Stop Lynas!

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: Protests and legal action against Lynas Corporation have been unrelenting since the company started building its rare earths plant two years ago.

PROTESTERS AT LYNUS AGM: We don't want your toxic waste.

KATE ARNOTT: Activists from Malaysia even targeted the Lynas Annual General Meeting in Sydney last week. They're worried radioactive waste from the plant could leak into the ground and water.

TAN BUN TEET, SAVE MALAYSIA STOP LYNAS: We should not allow one of the corporate citizens who comes 4,000 miles away to make profit at the expense of people's health, livelihood and safety.

NICK CURTIS, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, LYNAS CORPORATION: There is a small group who continue to agitate and make a significant amount of noise. Fine, that's their right.

(Footage of protests plays)

KATE ARNOTT: Nevertheless, the protests and legal action have been significant enough to cause extensive delays to the project.

At the AGM Lynas executive chairman, Nicholas Curtis, told frustrated investors:

"I acknowledge that on the metric of the value of the shares on the Australian Securities Exchange it has been a very bad year, in particular a surprisingly bad week. The market value of the company remains significantly lower than last year."

Lynas shares did, though, receive a boost on news that operations are scheduled to begin in December, with production revenue expected in the first quarter of next year.

(Footage of rare earths conference in Hong Kong plays)

Lynas didn't allow television cameras into the AGM, but Mr Curtis did grant Asia Pacific Focus a rare interview just before the meeting when he was in Hong Kong to address a rare earths conference.

NICHOLAS CURTIS: We had a very clear set of regulations in Malaysia which we have met and which have been confirmed to be global standard regulations so we knew the hurdles when we went in and met all of those hurdles. It is a good place to invest.

(Footage of Lynus mine in Kuantan)

KATE ARNOTT: Lynas plans to ship rare earth minerals from WA and process it in its plant near the city of Kuantan on the eastern coast of Peninsula Malaysia. Rare earths are used in high tech equipment from smartphones and TVs to missiles.

MASHAL AHMAD, MANAGING DIRECTOR, LYNAS MALAYSIA: We have undergone through six independent expert review panels which again independently confirm that Lynas is safe and will not cause any danger to the environment or to the public.

KATE ARNOTT: The rare earths plant was approved by Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board and the minister for science and technology in September. But activists remain highly sceptical.

Even though Lynas says naturally occurring radiation in the waste will be reduced to almost zero, protesters say the exact levels won't be known until the plant is up and running.

TAN BUN TEET: People have no confidence in the capacity and professionalism of the regulating body in policing this plant.

KATE ARNOTT: In September, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board said that the management and removal of residue was legally binding, and Lynas had committed itself to removing residue out of Malaysia.

NICK CURTIS: We have committed ourselves to undertake to do that. That's not part of our licence conditions with the ALB. Be very clear about that.

We have permission to store this material both on side temporarily and long term in an approved depository facility which we've given broad indications to the government of what they would look like.

SCOTT LUDLUM, AUSTRALIAN GREENS: The company appears to have sidestepped a number of the kind of environmental and social impact assessment that the company would have to undertake if it is building this mill in Australia.

KATE ARNOTT: Mr Curtis, though, says there should be no need to store residue on site because plans are under way to recycle it into industrial products like road base.

NICK CURTIS: We will in fact and are in fact building a pilot plant on site to test this material now, make a batch of it so we can actually present it to potential customers and sell it.

KATE ARNOTT: Lynas had applied to authorities to bring those products to Australia, but says that application is now on hold.

NICK CURTIS: We think actually the logistics of shipping mean that if we were to export the material from Malaysia, shipping it to thigh hand or Indonesia is clearly cheaper for us.

KATE ARNOTT: Environmental activists say the recycling plan is a big worry because it will spread radioactive exposure to more people beyond the control of any authorities.

TAN BUN TEET: By knowing that I don't think any country would want to accept such products.

(Footage of protests plays)

KATE ARNOTT: Activists also doubt the rare earths plant will be able to fire up in December because there are still a number of legal challenges in the wings. And a general election has to be held in Malaysia before the end of June next year.

TAN BUN TEET: The alternative government is going to come into power has pledged to stop this Lynas plant. I think their shareholders are very jittery of this prospect.
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