THE rare earths miner Lynas Corp expects to start production at its Malaysian processing plant next month, as it came under pressure both inside and outside its annual meeting in Sydney on Tuesday.
Lynas shares closed 2.5¢ higher at 66¢ after executive chairman Nicholas Curtis said production revenue from the plant in Gebeng in east Malaysia was expected to flow from the first quarter of next year.
The miner has faced a lengthy legal battle waged by Malaysian environmental activists, who claim the plant could pose environmental and health risks.
The dispute attracted a small crowd of anti-Lynas protesters, who picketed outside the meeting, with 19 campaigners flying in from Malaysia.
Inside the meeting, some shareholders expressed anger at the company's ailing share price, which has hovered near two-year lows and questioned the ability of the board to steer the company away from the legal and political wrangling over the rare earths processing facility.
Mr Curtis said he realised it had been a testing time for shareholders, but defended the board's actions, dismissing concerns about the plant as ''political, not environmental''.
The $900 million plant - the world's biggest rare earths facility outside China - has been ready since May but was delayed by legal challenges and the approval process.
The Malaysian government granted Lynas a temporary operating licence in September.
The company said it had to turn to a capital raising of $200 million last week following the legal fight, a move that saw its share price plunge, leading Mr Curtis to describe it as ''a surprisingly bad week''.
Mr Curtis said he expected the plant to become a ''go-to destination for nearly a quarter of the world's rare earth requirements''.
Lynas is one of the few non-Chinese companies in the rare earths market. The head of the activist group ''Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas'', Tan Bun Teet, said he would continue to use all legal and political means to oust Lynas from his country.
''We will continue to fight on until Lynas is removed from Malaysian soil [using] all the legal means or political options,'' Mr Tan said.
He said that a change of government in Malaysia could be ''part of the solution'' to stop Lynas.
In 1992, a rare earths refinery operated by the Mitsubishi group in Perak in northern Malaysia was closed after claims it caused birth defects and leukaemia in locals.
A Lynas spokesman said the company's mine was safe, adding its feedstock from the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia did not contain high amounts of thorium unlike the waste from tin mining used by the Mitsubishi plant.
Board member and nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski said during the meeting that suggestions that radiological problems were not being addressed was ''ridiculous''.