When the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) begins operations in the Gebeng industrial estate near Kuantan, it will be the world’s largest rare earth refinery. Despite widespread local and international objections, a temporary operating licence was issued to Lynas Malaysia early this month. Are the authorities concerned at all about our well-being or do dollars and cents matter more in this controversial issue?
This weekend, Himpunan Hijau 2.0 together with several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as well as Non-Governmental Individuals (NGIs) will organise "In Solidarity with Himpunan Hijau 2.0" events across the nation on 26th February in:
a) Kuala Lumpur @ Maju Junction 9.30am to 12 noon
b) Penang @ Speakers' Square from 6pm onwards
c) Bukit Merah (in front of old Asian Rare Earth from 11 am onwards
d) Tanjung Aru Beach 4pm onwards
Contrary to what some might think, the Lynas controversy is NOT just a Kuantan or Pahang issue. It affects EVERY SINGLE MALAYSIAN and even every single inhabitant of this planet!
Bear in mind that once it starts operating, the pollution from the plant will spread over a wide area, even into our ASEAN neighbours through the South China Sea. This is a serious health and safety issue for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US because contaminated seafood, agricultural produce will put our health and safety at risk. The North-east monsoon will carry the contaminants from the Lynas plant far and wide across the region.
Believe me, this is one issue that merits our attention and serious consideration. How many of us are aware that it is not just the location of the plant that is a controversy but also the waste from the plant which CANNOT BE TREATED and can only be stored?
If it is stored within the boundaries of our countries, Malaysians will have to bear the consequences for many generations - long after Lynas has packed its bags and left Malaysia!
How can they brush off our objections by saying that low radiation from the waste will not harm us?
In reality, the refinery processes require copious amounts of chemicals and reagents, such as concentrated sulphuric acid, magnesium oxide, hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid as well as immense volumes of water and natural gas to extract the rare earth oxides.
On top of that, solid, gaseous and liquid waste will be produced from the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD), water leach purification (WLP) and neutralisation underflow (NUF) processes.
If it works at full capacity of 22,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide, the LAMP will produce waste as follows:
- 64,000 tonnes containing 106 tonnes of radioactive thorium and 5.6 tonnes of radioactive uranium every year
- 215,000 tonnes of residue likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and other hazardous substances every year
- 100,000 cubic meters of air discharge likely to be contaminated with hazardous substances and radioactive particles
- 500 cubic meters (or tonnes) of contaminated waste water every hour
Does the existing facility have the capacity to store the solid waste for the whole duration of its operations with the guarantee that it will not jeopardize the safety of surrounding areas and beyond?
Or will residents have to face risky waste water discharge strategy whereby water contaminated from its plant floor storm water run-off and its filtered waste water will be discharged into the Balok River?
The Balok River is an important mangrove habitat with four species listed in the global protection list of the IUCN. The mangrove mud flats along the Balok River are crucial breeding and spawning ground for a diversity of marine and aquatic flora and fauna including crustaceans and molluscs which are benthos or bottom-feeders.
Local fishermen have been collecting and trapping a wide range of seafood such as crabs, prawns,lobsters, river fish, cockles and oyster to sell and for their own consumption since time immemorial. Lynas’ water discharge plan can ruin their seafood industry and upset the naturally low ph peat riverine ecosystem of the Balok River.
Other industries at risk include fisheries, tourism and lucrative oil palm and bird nests industries which have been sustaining the local economy.
Malaysians must remember that the plant was constructed without any public consultation and least of all the informed consent of the local people. In its 2011 June review of the LAMP, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made a recommendation to improve public consultation.
Did Lynas act upon that recommendation positively?
Most worryingly, do the different contractors and sub-contractors for the project have the experience in rare earth processing? Would they able to ensure effective management of their work? What are the implications to be considered? Have sub-standard materials been used and corners being cut in the construction of the plant?
One of the eleven IAEA recommendations for the Lynas project is the provision of a permanent waste disposal facility. Has Lynas provided any safe solution to manage its waste?
Malaysians must face the hard and painful truth that there is no safe permanent waste disposal facility in our country! So what does that mean? How will it affect us?
Ask yourself a simple question: Why did an Australian company decide to locate its plant in Malaysia? It has to go through a lot of inconveniences. Why?
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