Australia’s Lynas Rare Earth Ltd. (formerly known as Lynas
Corporation) mines rare earth ore in Western Australia, which it transports to a secondary processing plant in the port city of Kuantan Malaysia.
On March 8, 2011, a New York Times article revealed construction of a world-scale rare earth (RE) secondary processing plant in an industrial estate in Gebeng, near the Port of Kuantan, Malaysia. The plant is 100% owned by Australia’s Lynas Rare Earth Ltd. (formerly known as 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.
In 1992, the WA government granted Lynas’s predecessor Ashton Rare Earth Limited conditional approval for a processing plant in Meenaar industrial estate 100km from Perth . Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia approval stipulated numerous social and environmental conditions . Mt Weld and Meenaar are ideal mining and refining sites —sparsely populated semi-arid lands with underground aquifers capable of supplying amber water. Choosing, instead, a Malaysian site, Lynas could avoid the stringent Meenaar conditions set by the WA government.
Today, LAMP is about 2 km from a residential population of 30,000 and 700,000 people live within a 5km and 25 km radius (including Kuantan city with over 400,000) respectively.
Malaysia’s last RE refinery, Asian Rare Earth (ARE) in neighbouring state of Perak, left a toxic legacy involving Asia’s biggest RE clean-up effort costing $100 million . Partly owned and operated by Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical in the industrial town Bukit Merah, nearby villagers and workers experienced miscarriages, birth defects and unusually high incidence of childhood leukaemia due to poor management of toxic and radioactive wastes, lack of occupational and public health and safety measures, and government inaction despite independent scientific evidence of dangers. ARE closed down in 1992 after 10 years of operation and strong popular actions and protests .
A peat mangrove  — theoretically protected by law  — sits adjacent to the Lynas refinery. The Lynas refinery went ahead without public knowledge, consultation or impact assessment on the peatland, its biologically rich estuary and floodplains, and the marine and coastal ecosystems of the South China Sea, just 5 km from the refinery . Pitched as a ‘green’ supplier of materials for low-emission technologies vital to tackling climate change, it is ironic that Lynas has located its refinery in this rich tropical peatland, which stores huge amount of carbon dioxide emitted whenever burnt in the drought season, exposed or disturbed. Instead, this landscape should be protected for mitigating climate change and offering adaptive ecosystem services to local communities  .
Malaysia’s biggest ever environmental campaign  — described as the country’s “most far reaching experience with a popular environmental resistance”  — evolved as local, Australian and international environmentalists became alarmed by the secrecy surrounding the refinery, the fast-tracked approval, a 12-year tax break granted Lynas as a Malaysian government foreign direct investment incentive, the vulnerable social and ecological environment in which the refinery had been placed and prior experience of tragedies with Bukit Merah .
On May 15, 2011, about 100 people organised by DAP Kuantan gathered at the refinery to demonstrate before police moved in to arrest four individuals stretched out on a banner showing a radioactive symbol. The four were DAP Pahang publicity secretary Chow Yu Hui, organising secretary Lee Chin Chen, Khor Hui Ying and Thing Siew Shuen .
On June 22, 2014, thousands of protestors organized by NGO Himpunan Hijau (¨green assembly¨) gathered outside the Kuantan facility when guards began violently disrupting the crowd. 16 protestors including Australian-based activist Natalie Lowrey were arrested and detained in a Kuantan prison while two others were hospitalized after guards beat them. Her arrest became high-profile, inciting worldwide protests and a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for her release  .
In December 2018, a newly elected government demanded that Lynas ship back its refinery waste to Australia by September 2019 or else they would not have their license renewed. This caused the company´s stock price to fall by more than half . In August 2019, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad extended Lynas´operating license by 3 years under the condition that Lynas stop importing radioactive materials by July 2023 . In response, protestors continued mobilizing, such as chemical enginer turned activist Moses Lim, who brings up concerns that "[The radioactivity] will be passed through our children and our children's children .
On April 28, 2021, thanks to the joint efforts of Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL), Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth), Aid/Watch Australia and political parties such as the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), Lynas failed an environmental impact analysis for a proposal to build a permanent toxic and radioactive waste dump in a water catchment in a rainforest reserve. The proposed waste dump would be sited in a forest on Bukit Ketam that feeds two rivers that Kuantan uses to supply 90% of the population with drinking water .
However, a new site in a peat swamp is now being developed for the waste dump. The dump has been awarded to a company GSSB owned by the Regent of Pahang. GSSB has no experience in building a municipal landfill, let alone a radioactive waste dump that requires scientifically robust isolation of the hazardous materials of the waste. Aid/Watch and Malaysian groups are advocating for the 1+ million tones of radioactive waste to be removed from Malaysia. Under Western Australian guideline for this type of waste, Lynas must return it to its mine site in Mt Weld to be managed under a low-level radioactive waste management plan.