Lynas: A colossal catastrophe waiting to happen

By MN D’Cruz, Aliran

I am writing this as a concerned citizen, living in Kuantan for the past 60-odd years. My concern is not about my personal safety or health, as I am well into my eighties and the call may come anytime, sooner rather than later. May I also add that I have no political agenda in this matter and I am not a member of any political party, Barisan Nasional or Opposition.

But my real concern is about the safety and health of generations of our children to come, as well as the expanding population that has to work, live and perhaps die in the vicinity of the proposed plant. This vicinity includes Kuantan Town, Beserah, Batu Hitam, Jabor, Balok, Sungei Karang, Cherating and other settlements along the coast, right up to Kemaman and may be further on into the neighbouring state of Terengganu.

Most of these villages are well populated and growing. The proponents of this project and those in the authority of the state/federal governments now have a solemn duty to ensure the health and safety of the people in these regions for generations to come. But I am really concerned that whatever assurance they may give verbally or in writing may not hold good for ever. Nobody, except God, can predict natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tidal waves and floods, which may strike anytime.

I am sure those who built the plants in the Three Mile Island in USA (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) had taken utmost precautions to prevent disasters and yet they happened. Thousands of people died in these disasters and thousands more are still suffering the after-effects of these disasters. Do we want to have a similar situation in this country?

The biggest question is “Why do we want this plant in Gebeng or for that matter anywhere in Malaysia?”

Are we so hard-up for foreign direct investment that we are prepared to accept a backyard industry, rejected in its own country? Western Australia has all the required facilities, viz. less populated region, accessibility to seawater and port, good transport system and infrastructure.

So why do they want to come to Gebeng to do this job?

According to Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, “the state government did not approve the project and it had no power to stop it…”

“When Lynas first proposed the project, International Trade and Industry Ministry had given the project to Terengganu . However, due to delays (or rejection by Terengganu?) the Ministry asked us to consider having the plant in Gebeng” (Press report, 20 April 2011).

Does it mean the state government has no power to refuse permission for the plant to be built in Gebeng? Land usage is a state matter and the state should have the last say in such matters. So it is surprising to note the Ministry of International Trade and Industry has forced the Lynas Gebeng Project, down the state’s throat.

“Atomic Board has limited jurisdiction” (press report).

Does it mean that in matters outside its jurisdiction, it can wash its hands and put the blame on other agencies like the Malaysian Nuclear Agency, the Department of Environment and even the State Development Corporation?

“A full operational licence will not be issued if Lynas does not meet the requirements that have been set” (press report, April 23, 2011).

So, if the requirements are not met with, will the RM700 million Lynas plant under construction now become a white elephant?

“Lynas, which hopes to begin operation in September 2011, expects to bring in RM8 billion a year from 2013 that too tax-free, based on current prices.”

Who are the real beneficiaries of the RM8 billion a year income — the state government, Lynas Australia, the federal government, Lynas (M) Sdn Bhd?

I understand there is LYNAS (M) Sdn Bhd in existence.

Who are the directors, shareholders and stakeholders of this company?

It has been reported that a delegation of state exco reps visited the Lynas headquarters in Australia.

Who sponsored their visit? Did they see any plant in operation there? What technical or scientific expertise did the members of the delegation have to do an objective study of the pros and cons of operating such a plant? Who paid for their expenses? Lynas or the state government?

The raw-material is to be imported from Lynas Australia.

Why bring the raw materials from Australia, when it could safely be processed there? Is it because the 41 safety and health regulations by the Australian government are more stringent than whatever conditions we may impose in Malaysia?

According to some experts the public is already exposed to naturally occurring and ionising radiation. Do we need an extra dose of radiation?

The finished products will be taken back to Australia but the “tailings” will be “safely” left behind in Gebeng.

Why should we hold on to this toxic waste for many, many years, even if they are deposited underground?

Isn’t it true that there is no ‘safe’ level of radiation, as far as its effects on the health of the people is concerned? (Letter to the Press by Mr David K C Quek dated May 27, 2011).

Do we want a repeat of Bukit Merah, Perak, where the Japanese Company which ran the rare-earth plant is spending RM300 million to do the clean-up and even after more than 25 years, they have not succeeded in cleaning up, leaving behind those with birth defects and eight leukaemia cases — seven have since died (New York Times, March 8, 2011)

“Chinese farmers in China pay the price for rare-earth addictive” (press report).