Radiation around the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah and its permanent waste dumping site at Bukit Kledang, both in Perak, is still at a hazardous level after the factory closed 18 years ago.
This disturbing finding was recorded by anti-Lynas group Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) during a fact-finding visit to Perak over the weekend.
According to SMSL chairperson Tan Bun Teet (right), his members armed with radiation reading devices were not allowed to enter the plant and dumping sites, but the radiation readings around both locations showed worrying results.
The reading near the plant site was around 0.19 microsievert per hour while the reading near the dumping site stood at about 0.2 microsievert per hour.
Both readings, if extrapolated to annual basis, are beyond the safe level of 1 milisievert per year as advised by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), claimed Tan.
The average background reading of Malaysia is 0.05 microsievert per hour.
“It is regrettable that within the 1.7km buffer zone of the dumping site, we still found fish breeding, animal and vegetable farming activities (left),” said Tan.
However, AELB earlier claimed that the plant site has been decontaminated with radiation levels dropping from 0.65 microsievert per hour to 0.17 microsievert per hour, which is safe for human activities.
The board also claimed that it had requested the authorities to move illegal farms and squatters living within the buffer zone around the waste dump site.
The ARE plant run by Japanese company Mitsubishi Chemicals from the 1980s to the early 1990s, is blamed for spreading radiation poisoning in Bukit Merah due to alleged poor management of radioactive waste generated from processing tin tailings to extract rare earth.
The aftermath of the factory’s operations has been one of the largest radioactive waste clean-ups in Asia, with a permanent dumping site set up at the foot of nearby Bukit Kledang.
The anti-Lynas movement has been using the ARE plant as an example to protest against the Lynas rare earth plant in Gebeng, Kuantan.
Members of SMSL also met with a former contractor who was hired by ARE to dump the radioactive waste.
According to Tan, the contractor, whose three employees carrying out the job have died at young age, claimed that they just discarded the waste into empty plots of land within Menglembu and Lahat as ARE had not specified a dumping site.
In other words, the polluted areas are larger than what the authorities had expected, and they are difficult to trace, Tan elaborated.
Tan is also disappointed with the Ipoh Hospital which, he said, did not trace the background of cancer patients over the years to determine whether they were from the affected areas.
This matter was conveyed to Tan by Dr Chan Chee Khoon, an epidemiologist from Universiti Malaya, who has been following the issue and has had discussions with the medical personnel of Ipoh Hospital.
“This shows that the government did not follow up on the health conditions of residents in that area,” added Tan.