About 50 local and foreign members of the press taken on a tour of Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) in Gebeng, Pahang, yesterday returned dissatisfied with the brief visit and the lack of time given for their questions.
At a press conference held before the site visit, Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd’s managing director Mashal Ahmad ( left ) and radiological safety advisor Ismail Bahari spent about one-and-a-half hours debunking some adverse claims made by opponents, then fielded questions reporters' questions for about 30 minutes before abruptly ending the session.
Malaysiakini was not able to ask any question despite repeated attempts to get Mashal’s attention.
In addition, there was no mention of a permanent disposal facility (PDF) throughout the press conference neither from the media nor the Lynas’ senior management.
To date, there have not been any concrete details available on the PDF, even though Lynas needs to provide these details to the Atomic Energy Licencing Board (AELB) within ten months of the issuance of its temporary operating license (TOL), or face its revocation.
When Mashal was door-stopped and pressed about Lynas’ next course of action should Pakatan Rakyat takes power and stops Lynas’ operations, he curtly told Malaysiakini that the question should be referred to the opposition coalition instead.
The reporters then boarded a bus and were taken on a half-hour tour around the Lamp site.
Several Lynas officials were on board to point out and name certain features of the rare earth refinery.
However, those seated at the back repeatedly complained that they could not hear what was being said, only to receive a Lynas official's reply that he was already shouting.
Reporters were not allowed to disembark during the tour, while press photographers scrambled from one side of the bus to another to take photos through the dusty windows.
At the end of the bus ride some photographers were overheard complaining loudly that they did not actually know what features of the plant and site they were focusing on.
Reporters were later allowed about 20 minutes at the refinery’s office block car park to take footage of the plant before leaving.
During the press conference earlier, Mashal said that reporters were not allowed on the ground because it was still under the jurisdiction of the main construction contractor, UGL.
“They are very strict with safety regulations. If you need to be on the ground, you need to go through with their various briefings, trivia, asking questions and you’ve got to be fully equipped to be on the ground.
'Lynas has nothing to hide'
“If you want to come down (from the bus), that complicates matters,” he said.
Repeatedly emphasising that Lynas has nothing to hide, Mashal suggested that the media come in smaller groups another time if they wanted a closer look, and that he would also welcome any “relevant experts”.
The tour of the Lamp site was organised by Lynas, facilitated by the AELB.
Most of the reporters boarded a AELB bus from its office in Dengkil, Selangor, to Lamp, about four hours away.
Upon arrival at Lynas' gate at about 2.15pm, the media was 'welcomed' by around 40 anti-Lynas protesters, who cheered as the bus drove past.
The protesters had with them three coffins draped in black cloth and topped with a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, as a sign of protest.
During the return trip, a foreign news agency correspondent commented that it was a good start for Lynas to allow the media to tour the refinery, but had come a year late.
The reporter also complained that the question-and- answer session during the press conference was too short and the answers given were not clear.
Another foreign media correspondent, who did not want to be named, said the limited time set for reporters’ questions showed a lack of sincerity.
“What is the point of sending us here but not allowing us to ask questions as we like?
“We travelled for four hours to get here and another four hours to return, that’s a total of eight hours. They should let us ask whatever we wanted,” she said.
“Our readers and audience do not have the chance to see these things... they rely on us,” added yet another foreign correspondent, who was unhappy about not being allowed to get off the bus to shoot some video footage.