Prominent Kuantan doctor rubbishes concerns over Lynas’ radioactivity

(Bernama) – A prominent Pahang doctor has rubbished concerted “lies” spread by the Opposition among local residents on radioactive concerns from the recently completed RM2.5bil Lynas rare earth plant here, saying that the anti-Lynas campaign was purely politically motivated to win votes in the coming general election.

Datuk Dr Looi Hoong Wah, a consultant physician with 40 years of interest in nuclear medicine and particle physics, said the anti-Lynas activists had been brainwashing the people here for the last two years despite the fact that there would be “absolutely no radiation waste or any toxic waste whatever” from the plant.

Lynas’ safety was verified by six independent bodies, including the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s highest authority for atomic energy.

“The substance they bring in is just nothing but rare earth oil containing a tiny bit of weak radioactive thorium 232.

“That is an extremely weak sort of radioactive substance and it has a very long life of tens of billions of years.

“And all this anti-Lynas people say…oh our great-great grandchildren are going to suffer for 14 billion years. This is absolutely rubbish,” he said. Dr Looi said if one were to look at the half-life of radioactive material (the time required for a quantity to fall to half its value), the longer the half-life, the less dangerous it would be.

“For instance, if half of a house is burned down in 14 billion years, will it cause any problem? No, it won’t cause any problem because there is only a tiny fire, whereas if it is burned down in 40 minutes, then a lot of people will get killed or injured.

“The same thing with lead, the one we use in our car batteries. It has a long half-life as well of 19 billion years. “Because it has such a long half life, it is practically non-radioactive when you use it in your cars. So thorium is very weak radioactively,” he said

Asked how he got interested in nuclear science and particle physics, Dr Looi said he developed an interest when he was a medical student in Manchester about 40 years ago as one of his tutors was a nuclear physicist.

He said he had put thorium in his hand without any side-effects till today because thorium, when released outside connected with electrons to produce helium gas, just like the one used to fill balloons, which was completely harmless. Dr Looi reckoned that it was purely for political reasons that the Opposition was trying to work everybody up about the Lynas plant in Gebeng.

“The thorium 232 or decay products produce only a tiny bit of electron, which is electricity.

“It doesn’t cause any problem. You find that Lynas’ radiation, once you are outside of the boundaries of the plant, the radiation is zero.

“There is no instrument on this earth which is sensitive enough to pick it up,” he said.

Dr Looi said the disinformation on the Lynas bordered on ridiculous assertions because even in a human body there was radioactivity as well due to potassium, which doctors give to patients to control the intake of salt in hypertension and other cases.

“Even in our body, we have about 4,400 becquerel (Bq) whereas the Lynas waste and ore contain less than 6 Bq per gram.

“This is already 124 times more than the Lynas worst case scenario. So why complain about a Lynas plant in Gebeng here where there are 124 Lynas plants in your body producing radioactivity?” he added.

Asked on the effects on workers, he said what they could possibly get was only less than 20 percent of the permitted dosage. Dr Looi also quoted Dr Nick Tsurikov, the international radiation specialist, as saying that there was no radiation risk whatsoever as far as the Lynas plant was concerned.

He also said that opposition to the plant should take into account that more than 1,000 quality jobs were at stake and these are people with families for them to put food on the table.

“Once you have a rare earth plant around, (other) companies will come, like Siemens (which) is planning to come in and make use of the rare earth. They will produce thousands more jobs because of the spill-over effects,” he said.

Dr Looi appealed to non-governmental organisations and the Opposition to “wake up” and realise that the Lynas plant would be of great benefit to the country.

“You can brainwash people for some time but you can’t brainwash them forever,” he said.