Stephanie Sta Maria | January 27, 2012
Corporation’s 300-page application permit reinforces fears that the RM2.5-billion plant would spell doom for Kuantan residents
PETALING JAYA: Two independent experts are standing by their initial apprehension of Lynas Corporation’s rare earth plant in Gebeng even after reviewing its lengthy application permit.
Epidemiologist, Professor Chan Chee Khoon, and chemical engineer, Professor Tan Ka Kheng, both said that Lynas’ 300-page document reinforced their fears that the RM2.5-billion plant would spell doom for Kuantan residents.
According to Chan, the main issue of Lynas’ vague waste management plan remained hanging in the air and the Australian mining giant was still looking into recycling the residue into gypsum boards.
Lynas plans to produce synthetic gypsum from its recycled waste and sell it to Kuantan residents in the form of phospogypsum plaster boards.
“The world has spent the past three decades phasing out asbestos due to its carcinogenic component and here we are adding it in the form of gypsum boards,” said Chan.
“If Lynas’ commercialisation attempt fails, then it plans to store the waste in a permanent disposal facility and we will have a replay of the Papan tragedy.”
Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) set up operations in the Bukit Merah Industrial area in the 1980s.
Up to 80,000 200-litre drums of radioactive waste was found stored behind Papan town two years ago after residents were told by none other than former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, that a “small amount” of nuclear waste was “buried deep in the ground” in Perak.
Chan, a public health scientist with Universiti Malaya, pointed out that there was a high possibility of an unknown number of illegal dumpsites still existing at unknown locations in Ipoh.
He warned that if the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) was granted an operational licence, then a similar future would be awaiting Kuantan.
Lynas talking nonsense
Chan flayed various official bodies for their blithe assurance that the projected levels of radiation exposure met the safety standards set by the International Commission of Radiological Protection.
He pointed out that the government bodies had ignored a crucial debate that has been raging for years over the effect of low-level radiation.
“International experts still can’t reach a consensus on the risk of low-level exposure,” said Chan. “Lynas’ document doesn’t take into account internal emitters from inhaling or ingesting radioactive particles.”
“They are talking nonsense when they say it is safe. And the Kuantan community will become lab rats in this experiment.”
Tan’s anxieties, meanwhile, rested on the absence of an analysis on the ore concentrate that Lynas will be bringing into Malaysia.
Calling the current document “contradictory and confusing”, he also questioned the true amount of waste that would be generated from LAMP.
“The figures in the application permit are based purely on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and are estimations at best,” Tan said.
“So what is the real total amount of waste and what exactly is coming into our country?”
While he stressed that a more detailed EIA report is necessary, he also pointed out that doing so without the ore concentrate would be a mere paper exercise.
“Right now the government appears to be helping Lynas clean up its act,” Tan said. “So who is really leading the show here?”
“And will the government allow Lynas to be another ARE which conveniently closed down when it was in the red? These are questions that need to be answered for the next generation.”