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Lynas Refinery in Kuantan, Malaysia


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.

Lynas is the only RE company with a refinery plant in a Global South country separate from its ore mine.

  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 [1]. Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia approval stipulated numerous social and environmental conditions [2]. 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, the refinery is about 2 km from a residential population of 30,000 and 700,000 people live within a 25 km radius (including Kuantan city with over 400,000). 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 [3]. 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 [4].

A peat mangrove [5] — theoretically protected by law [6] — 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 [7]. 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 [8] [9].

Malaysia’s biggest ever environmental campaign [10] — described as the country’s “most far reaching experience with a popular environmental resistance” [11] — 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 [12][13].

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

[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.

[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)

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

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

[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

[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)

[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.

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

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

[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 —

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

Media Links

Image of Anti-Lynas campaigners

Other Documents

Anti-Lynas campaign poster Save Malaysia — Stop Lynas

Meta Information

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



Anti-Lynas campaign poster

Save Malaysia — Stop Lynas