Saturday, February 25, 2012

Green Gathering: Malaysians take Lynas to court

Malaysia is littered with ventures where profits are privatized and losses are socialized. If the people of Malaysia are not vigilant, the Lynas plant may very well turn out to be the next radiation disaster.

Reported in Malaysia Today, the state of Kuantan - Environmental Watch Group, Soon Jin Hou said if the scam goes as planned, the largest rare earth refinery in the world will start operating in Gebeng Industrial Zone, some 25 km away from Kuantan town, home to almost half a million people. This plant will cast a shadow over Kuantan town. Real estate price will plunge, residents who are able to relocate will flee and those who are not will be in constant fear of radiation exposure.

Lynas Corporation Ltd is an ASX 100 listed company, claims to have its strategy to create a reliable, fully integrated source of Rare Earths from mine through to market, and to become the benchmark for the security of supply and environmental standards in the global Rare Earths industry.
The foundation of this strategy is Mount Weld in Western Australia, the richest known deposit of Rare Earths in the world, and a state-of-the-art Rare Earths processing plant.

Despite the Government’s announcement to shelve the project due to public uproar last year, Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) is pushing ahead with the construction near Kuantan in Pahang, Malaysia. This fuels the speculations of a hand in high ranking official’s involvement and corruption cannot be disqualified.

If not, the authorities certainly have learnt nothing at all from the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) debacle in Bukit Merah, Perak. The ARE plant was operated by Mitsubishi Chemical and it extracted rare earth from old tin mine slag.  Unfortunately the waste contains high level of thorium, which is a perpetually radioactive substance because its half-life is 14.05 billion years! The residents there blamed the plant for birth defects and eight leukemia cases, 7 of whom have since died. As a result of strong public opposition, the ARE was finally closed in 1992 and is currently undergoing a massive RM303 million cleanup.

It is not difficult to see why the authorities have not learnt their lesson from the ARE disaster. Until this very day, the authorities refused to acknowledge that the radioactive waste was responsible for sudden escalation of health problems among the residents. On 26 April 2011, Deputy Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof claimed that the waste in Bukit Merah poses no threat to the public or the environment. This is in stark contrast with the evidence, whereby the 8 leukemia cases occurred within 5 years in a community of 11,000.  

However, the massive cleanup effort belies the government’s assertion. If the waste is safe, why would such an extensive cleanup be necessary? When the cleanup is completed, the waste will finally be buried deep inside a nearby hill under 20 feet of clay and granite. If the waste poses no threat, why the need to bury it?

Similarly, for the new rare earth refinery, the point of contention is the waste management. Since the beginning, public disclosures from the authorities and Lynas Corporation from Australia, the owner of the plant have been sparse and contradictory. Despite the huge stake Kuantan residents have, no public consultation was held prior to approval of the project. In fact, if not for a report in the New York Times on 8 March 2011, many residents would still be oblivious to the existence of this plant.

Lynas will import rare earth ores from Mount Weld in Australia to be processed in Gebeng. The finished products will be exported overseas while the radioactive waste dumped in Gebeng. From the press statements, one can surmise that the waste management is not even finalized yet.
On one hand, Lynas’ executive chairman Nicholas Curtis claims that they have permission from the government to store the waste onsite forever. On the other, AELB’s (Atomic Energy Licensing Board) director general Raja Datuk Abdul Aziz Raja refutes that claim in saying that the plant can only store waste temporarily. If the onsite storage is temporary, where will the waste be shipped to next? It will definitely not be bound for its place of origin Australia, after Western Australian minister for mines and petroleum, fisheries and electoral affairs Norman Moore flatly rejected calls to take back Lynas’ radioactive waste.

The lies, deceit and deception by the elite & corporate giants are causing an outrage to the learned Malaysians. A sign of nothing more than potential wealth looting at the expense of the people’s health.  

Raja Aziz claims that Lynas’ waste is safe enough to be scattered everywhere if Lynas can keep the thorium level in its waste to 1,600 parts per million. Then again, if the waste is safe, why is it necessary for Lynas to build storage pools for it, and why does Raja Aziz refuse permission for Lynas to store the waste permanently? The most plausible explanation is that neither Lynas nor AELB are confident that the ‘safe’ thorium level can be met. If that is the case, the authorities have betrayed the people of Kuantan by exposing them to unknown and unnecessary health risks.

The flippant attitude of the authorities is on full display in a town hall style meeting with Kuantan residents, where Raja Aziz said that Lynas will only be told to cease operation if they breach the threshold thorium concentration limit. Yet, he admitted that there were no fixed safety requirements for radiation, and that the concentration is just an indicator. How can such a project be approved without due consideration to the health and safety of the residents? To allay fears of radiation exposure, Lynas harp on a Radiological Impact Assessment report that claims that the waste is safe. However, until this day, this report has not been disclosed to the public for scrutiny. It would not be difficult to imagine that if Lynas is willing to incur substantial transportation cost to ship the ores all the way from Australia to be processed in Gebeng, the waste is probably something nobody wants in their backyard. This explains Lynas’ rather secretive modus operandi. Despite the claim of low thorium levels, Lynas will be processing 10 times the amount of ores compared to the ARE.

Environmentalists contends that the much larger volume causes thorium levels to build up over time, to which Lynas has yet to provide any reply. Lynas also conveniently skipped the issue of radon gas, another potent carcinogen, which is discharged when the ores are cracked. Finally, Lynas refuses to disclose whether they will process uranium bearing ores in Gebeng from their newly acquired Malawian mine in Gebeng.

An East Malaysia political party PKR is joining force with resident and NGO's on a nationwide campaign to stop the greedy political imbeciles in their suicide mission for wealth.  

Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) group urges the authorities to exercise restraint to allow citizens their democratic rights and to give them the space to peacefully express themselves in the forthcoming Sunday’s Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally in Kuantan.

Chairperson of SMSL, Mr Tan Bun Teet explained, “The people have fought hard to stop Lynas and a number of other environmental problems. It is our duty as responsible and caring citizens to keep our country and our family safe.”

Earlier this month, a temporary operating license was issued to Lynas Malaysia, a wholly owned operation of Australia’s Lynas Corporation, for its controversial rare earth refinery plant in Gebeng, an industrial estate about 20 km from Kuantan.

“We have tried every possible avenue and yet the Government has gone ahead with its bad decision which threatens our future. It is understandable that this will spark outrage and anger amongst people.” Said Haji Ismail Abu Bakar, Vice-Chairperson of SMSL.

He added, “Many families living in kampongs along the coast in Pahang will be directly affected once Lynas starts to dump its waste water into the South China Sea. These families depend on the seafood and tourism industry. They run small businesses to sustain their livelihoods. Who will want to buy contaminated seafood? Who will want to holiday next to a toxic plant?” SMSL is disappointed that the Government has not taken on board grave concerns of the public which leave the people no choice but to take to the street to protest. The injustice is felt everywhere, not just in Kuantan but the whole of Malaysia. The good reputation of Malaysia is at stake over the handling of this issue.

The Lynas issue is a problem for ALL Malaysians. The pollution will spread over a wide area, even into our ASEAN neighbors through the South China Sea. Contaminated seafood and agricultural produce can create serious food safety issue not just for the people of Kuantan but to all the consumers of agriculture and seafood and seafood products. Air pollution from the Lynas plant can be carried far and wide by the north eastern monsoon wind. Where will Lynas find a permanent location for its waste? Which state in Malaysia or which town in Pahang will be the next target?

Having a polluting industry will deter investment from clean technology and ethical companies which is the way of the future. Rare earth oxides are crucial raw materials but locating it in an ecologically sensitive area so close to so many families is a bad and regressive move.

“SMSL has engaged a strong team of experts to prepare for our legal action with the help of the Pahang Bar. We have strong grounds and we want to leave no stone unturned to present the strongest possible case. Letting Lynas operate is NOT an option.”

Malaysia is littered with ventures where profits are privatized and losses are socialized. If the people of Malaysia are not vigilant, the Lynas plant may very well turn out to be the next radiation disaster.

1 comment:

  1. "The lies, deceit and deception by the Government are causing an outrage to the learned Malaysians. A sign of nothing more than potential wealth looting at the expense of the people’s health"

    Good one bro.