Lynas Refinery in Kuantan, Malaysia

Prompting Malaysia’s biggest environmental campaign, Australian Lynas Corp’s large rare earth refinery, established in Gebeng, produces toxic waste close to 30,000 residents, peat land, a bio-rich estuary, floodplains, and marine and coastal ecosystems.


On 8 March 2011, a New York Times article revealed construction of a world-scale rare earth (RE) refinery project in an industrial estate in Gebeng, near the Port of Kuantan, Malaysia. The refinery is owned by Australia’s Lynas Corporation, which owns and operates a mine and concentration plant in Mt Weld (Western Australia, WA)— 800km from WA’s capital, Perth — shipping the ore concentrate 2,899 nautical miles (5,370 km) from Fremantle Port to the Kuantan plant for extraction and processing into RE oxides.

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Basic Data
NameLynas Refinery in Kuantan, Malaysia
SiteRegion surrounding Gebeng Industrial Estate, Kuantan
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesRare metals
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsInitially, expected production from Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Phase 1 was 11,000 tonnes rare earth oxides (REO) and, in Phase 2, operating at full capacity 22,000 tonnes of REO [14] from an annual import of 66,000 tonnes of Western Australian RE concentrate, a level of production from the Mt Weld concentrator requiring around 240,000 tonnes ore [15].

With respect to hazardous and radioactive wastes, the refinery processes require copious chemicals and reagents, such as concentrated sulphuric acid, magnesium oxide, hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid. Moreover, large amounts of water and natural gas are required to extract the REOs. Through the processes of flue gas desulphurisation, water-leach purification and neutralisation underflow, flue gas and water wastes are generated. [16]

The expected waste from LAMP operating and producing at full capacity was 100,000 cubic meters of waste gas and 500 cubic meters (or tonnes) of wastewater every hour and, annually, 64,000 tonnes of radioactive gypsum waste containing 106 tonnes thorium and 5.6 tonnes uranium (both radioactive) and around 215,000 tonnes of supposedly non-radioactive gypsum. It is unlikely that this level of waste could be contained at the current facility were the refinery to work at full capacity year in year out. [Table 5.5.1 and 5.5.2 in 17].

Moreover, given that Lynas did not follow best practices by establishing a pilot plant, it is quite likely that gypsum, waste gas and wastewater produced might contain other contaminants neither identified by Lynas and the Department of Environment (Malaysia), not the Atomic Energy Licensing Board and International Atomic Energy Agency.

In fact, annual REO production reached 8,799 tonnes to the end of the financial year 30 June 2015, a considerable improvement on the 3965 tonnes in the year prior. [18, p. 2]. Furthermore, for the financial year ending 30 June 2016, Lynas produced 12,360 tonnes of REO, including 3897 tonnes of niodymium-phraseodymium [19, p. 3].
Project Area (in hectares)100Ha
Level of Investment (in USD)Total assets in 2014–2015 were around A$850mn [18, p. 47]. This figure does not include reductions associated with considerable debts meaning net assets were valued at less than $200mn in the financial year ending mid-2015 [18, p. 47].
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date08/03/2011
Company Names or State EnterprisesLynas Corporation from Australia
Ashton Rare Earth Limited from Australia
Asian Rare Earth from Australia
Mitsubishi Chemical from Japan
Relevant government actorsMalaysian Ministry of Sciences, Technology and Innovations

Malaysian Government's Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB)

Malaysian Parliament Select Committee

Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority

Western Australian Government (mining regulations and royalties)

Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment Malaysia
International and Financial InstitutionsInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - Two official reviews at the request of the Malaysian Governemnt
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSave Malaysia Stop Lynas —

Friends of the Earth Malaysia (Sahabat Alam) —

Stop Lynas Australia —

BADAR (Balok Anti-Radioactive and Rare Earth group)

Himpunan Hijau (Green Assembly) —

Stop Lynas Coalition —
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
small local tourist operators
property/land owners
senior citizens
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationAppeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Development of a network/collective action
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Media based activism/alternative media
Shareholder/financial activism.
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Other Environmental impacts
OtherRadiation hazards and risks
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
OtherRadiation exposure health hazards and risks for workers and communities

Air pollution from noxious gases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
OtherLivelihood impacts on people gaining an income from fishery and tourism
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThe refinery should adopt best practice radio-active waste and pollution management facilities, and independent and transparent monitoring measures.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The campaign managed to attract a lot of international media attention and stopped bigger contracts being pursued by major buyer. Lynas share values plummeted due to negative publicity and financial risks and because prices of rare earth elements dropped.
Sources and Materials

[10] Stop Lynas (campaign) Site
[click to view]

[16] BRS (2011), Section 3.4 ‘Description of Process’ in Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) Radiological Impact Assessment, Revision 2, (December 2011) Bandar Baru Bengi: Bangi Ray Services.

[3] Bradsher, K. (2011) ‘Mitsubishi Quietly Cleans Up Its Former Refinery’ New York Times, 8th March.
[click to view]

[2] EPA-WA (1992) ‘Report and Recommendations on the Proposed Rare Earths Mining and Beneficiation at Mt Weld, Laverton and Secondary Processing at Meenaar, near Northam’, Bulletin # 646, Perth: Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia.

[5] Rozainah M.Z and Mohamad M.R. (2006) ‘Mangrove Forest Species Composition and Density in Balok River, Pahang, Malaysia’, Ecoprint 3

[6] Wood, L. J. (2007) ‘Marine Protected Area Global: A Database of the World's Marine Protected Areas’, Sea Around Us Project, United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP)- World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) & World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
[click to view]

[9] International Peat Society (2008), ‘Peatlands and Climate Change Policy’
[click to view]

[7] CAP (2012) ‘AELB not adhering to IAEA recommendations on Lynas’ — Consumer Association of Penang
[click to view]

[4] Poh, L.K. (2015) ‘In Search of Environmental Justice in Malaysia: The Cases of Broga and Bukit Merah’, PhD Thesis for University of Brighton, June.

[1] Government of Western Australia (1992) ‘Environmental Clearance for Rare Earth Mine’, Media Release, 10 November
[click to view]

[8] Murdiyarso, D., Kauffman, J.B., Warren, M., Pramova, E. and Hergoualc’h, K. (2012) ‘Tropical wetlands for climate change adaptation and mitigation: Science and policy imperatives with special reference to Indonesia’. Working Paper 91, Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

[11] Cooke, F. M. and Hezri, A.A. (2013) ‘Environmentalism in Malaysia: Movement Structure and Agency’ in P. Hirsch (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook on the Environment in Southeast Asia (In Press 2017)
[click to view]

[12] CAP (1993) Wasted Lives – Radioactive Poisoning in Bukit Merah, Penang, Malaysia, Penang: Consumer Association of Penang.

[13] Wada, Y. (2013) ‘A Radioactive Thorium Pollution Case in Malaysia: Asian Rare Earth Incident Revisited’, Power Point Presentation for the Rare Earth Symposium, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 31 May.
[click to view]

[14] Lynas Corp Ltd, The LAMP, Kuantan, Malaysia’, accessed 24 October 2016
[click to view]

[15] Lynas Corp Ltd, ‘Mt Weld, Western Australia’, accessed 24 October 2016
[click to view]

[17] Environ Consulting Services (2008) Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment and Quantitative Risk Assessment Report of the Proposed Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) within the Gebeng Industrial Estate, Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia, prepared for Lynas Corporation, January 2008

[18] Lynas Corp, Annual Report 2015, Lynas site —
[click to view]

[19] Lynas Corporation Ltd, Financial Report for the Year ended June 30, 2016.
[click to view]

Media Links

Image of Anti-Lynas campaigners
[click to view]

Other Documents

Anti-Lynas campaign poster Save Malaysia — Stop Lynas
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorAnitra Nelson and Lee Tan, Australian Environmnetal Justice, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University — [email protected]
Last update09/12/2016