Lynas workers fear losing their jobs

KUANTAN: Lynas Malaysia employees are fearing for their jobs with a prohibition on radioactive waste production set to be implemented from July onwards.

At a gathering in Balok here, hundreds of Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) staff members appealed to the government and authorities to be fair in their policies regarding Lynas.

LAMP cracking and leaching supervisor Mohd Badrulhisyam Zulkifli, 40, said he would not have continued working for Lynas if it was detrimental to his health.

"I have worked for Lynas for 13 years and I am still healthy. I am not stupid. If this plant is dangerous, why would I continue working here?" he said.

Also present were contractors for Lynas and members of the Balok community.

Kampung Balok resident Datuk Shaharuddin Shamsudin, 73, said Lynas detractors should produce evidence if the plant's operations were as dangerous as they claimed.

"The Balok community has prospered with the presence of Lynas. I have never heard of any cases of mutant babies being born here or residents getting afflicted with cancer due to the plant's operations.

"If there's no proof, then shut up. Don't talk," he said.

Lynas employees last held such a gathering in 2018 when they called on the government to treat them fairly in the midst of a review of the plant's operations.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang had recently announced that Lynas' request to drop licensing conditions related to cracking and leaching activities, the generation of water leach purification residues and the importation of lanthanide concentrates from Australia was not considered.

This meant that Lynas would no longer be allowed to carry out activities that would produce radioactive waste in Malaysia after July 2023.

Lynas Malaysia radiation safety general manager Dr Ismail Bahari said the company had developed local expertise and infrastructure in the rare earth field and shutting down cracking and leaching would be akin to cutting off a limb.

He said a disruption would surely happen in the rare earth product supply chain since it took LAMP up to six years to achieve full operations while the new and larger cracking and leaching facilities in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, had yet to be completed.

When asked about Chang's assertion that cracking and leaching could be retained if the radioactive waste were shipped out of the country, Ismail said this was an irresponsible statement as international regulations prohibited such an act.

Ismail said the ideal solution was to conduct research into reusing the waste for a beneficial purpose.

"We have the financial means and the willpower to conduct such a research. However, I urge the authorities to be decisive once we produce results with our research.

"Mistakes have been made before in halting our research and it must never be repeated," he said.

Lynas vice-president of people and culture Mimi Afzan Afza said more than 200 workers would be affected if the cracking and leaching component at LAMP was to shut down.

Additionally, some 350 to 400 contractors as well as numerous suppliers would also be impacted, she said here on Thursday (Feb 23).

"All we are asking is for us to be treated the same as any other industry. We are pleading with the Prime Minister and the ministers to treat us in a just and fair manner," said Mimi Afzan.

Lynas chief executive officer and managing director Amanda Lacaze had said that the forced closure of the cracking and leaching plant at Lynas Malaysia would result in the loss of hundreds of direct jobs, thousands of jobs in the community and hundreds of million ringgit in local expenditure.

Lynas had submitted its appeal to the government on the Atomic Energy Licensing Board's decision not to consider the company’s application for the removal of the conditions.

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