The Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are very concerned with the Pahang government's decision to go ahead with the proposed rare earth plant in Gebeng despite the fact that this refinery is a disaster waiting to happen.
In 2007, SAM was invited by the Terengganu government to give a briefing on the dangers of rare earth and SAM's experience dealing with the exposure of radioactive waste in Bukit Merah, Perak. Following this, the project was rejected by the Terengganu government.
In the last three years, CAP and SAM have objected vehemently to the proposed rare earth plant due to the potential public health and environmental impacts of radioactive and hazardous waste that would be generated.
There has been no full public disclosure of this proposed project. A detailed environmental impact assessment was not required due to a loophole in our law. Thus there was no avenue for the public to review the proposed mitigation measures and potential risks, and raise their objections.
The company has said that there will be low level exposure to radiation. This is alarming as there is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure. Long-term, low-level (chronic) exposure to radiation is harmful because living tissue in the human body can be damaged by ionizing radiation.
The exposure to radioactive waste can contribute to increased incidence of childhood leukaemia, cancer, miscarriages, impaired immune systems with an abnormal low white blood cell counts, high lead levels among children which would lead to lead poisoning.
Children are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation disasters than the general population because their bodies absorb and metabolise substances differently, and because they are more likely to develop certain cancers from such an exposure. There is also a high possibility that children born to parents that have been exposed to radiation could be affected by those exposures too.
The other issue of concern is that there no known way to safely dispose the waste which is generated from this refinery.
Given all these risks, is the government prepared to sacrifice lives for the sake of profits?
Taking into account the seriousness of the risks involved in running such a plant, we strongly urge the government to call off this project immediately.
SM Mohamed Idris is Consumers' Association of Penang president. - Malaysiakini,11/3/2011, Kuantan rare earth plant threat to public safety
News of the setting up of a rare earth refinery in Pahang is sending jitters down the spines of Malaysians who remember the drawn-out battle against a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Perak.Malaysiakini recalls what happened.
1982 Asian Rare Earth (ARE), a joint-venture between main shareholder Mitsubishi Chemical industries Ltd, Beh Minerals, Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji and several bumiputera businesses, begins operating its plant at Jalan Lahat, Bukit Merah.
1984 6700 residents of Papan (16 kms from Ipoh), where ARE is dumping its waste, sign a petition against it to the government while up to 3000 take part in several demonstrations and a hunger strike.
Up to 3000 residents including women and children take part in several demonstrations and a hunger strike.Meanwhile, environmentalists, radiation experts, physicists and industrial waste experts from abroad visit the site and declare it unsafe with radiation up to 800 times the accepted levels.
1985 Residents of Bukit Merah obtain a stop work order from the High Court.
1986 Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) deems the site safe, after an ARE clean up, as only some parts have more than acceptable radiation level.
1987 AELB issues a licence to ARE to resume work, to demonstrations involving up to 10,000 residents. More than 20, including women, were injured in one incident while 60 were detained by police. None were charged.
Eight residents take legal action against ARE, and up to 3000 marched 8 kms to court on the last day of proceedings. More than 100 were in the next month detained under the Internal Security Act and released after two months.
1989 Two children aged five and 11 and a 19-year-old man were diagnosed with acute leukemia. Other cases like brain cancer, septicemia and other complications are reported.
Seemingly healthy children exposed to radiation were tested and found to be less healthy than those in Carey Island, although the children of Bukit Merah were better nourished.
According to 1986 statistics, Bukit Merah should have only one case of leukemia in thirty years. By the time the plant shuts down, eight cases would have been diagnosed. Seven patients will not survive.There are also reported cases of birth deformities involving children of workers at the plant.
1992 The Bukit Merah residents win their suit against ARE but the High Court's shutdown order is stayed upon ARE's appeal to the Supreme Court. The proceedings are adjourned.
1994 ARE announces that it will cease operations even though the case is pending.
2011: Mitsubishi is reportedly engaged in a RM100 million clean-up effort in Bukit Merah, and contributes hundreds of thousands of ringgit to the local community. - Malaysiakini, 10/3/2011, Fast backward: What happened in Bukit Merah
An Australian mining company said Thursday it plans to finish building a huge rare earths processing plant in Malaysia late this year, in a possible challenge to China's stranglehold on the metals.
The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan is scheduled to begin producing rare earths, which are indispensable in making many high-tech products, in the third quarter of 2011, a Lynas spokeswoman in Sydney told AFP.
"The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant is scheduled to come online in the third quarter of 2011," she said.The facility - which will refine raw material from Mount Weld in Western Australia - is described by the giant firm as "the largest of its kind" and set to provide the first new source of supply of rare earths outside China.
The firm was two to four years ahead of any other producers outside China because rare earths projects take several years to develop, Matthew James, vice president of corporate and business development at Lynas, told AFP in October.
He said the project, which had been eight years in the making, had about 1.4 million tonnes of the elements at Mount Weld. The company plans to double output from the Malaysian plant to 22,000 tonnes a year by the end of 2012.
Rare earths such as super-magnet dysprosium and red-glowing europium are vital components in hard-drives and computer screens, while the metals are also pivotal in making laser missile systems, wind turbines and solar panels.
'Repeating pass mistakes'
The project has however drawn criticism from Malaysian environmental groups, which said they were "appalled" the government had approved it, after a similar plant in another Malaysian state was forced to halt in 1992 due to protests.
"We do not want a repeat of what happened in Bukit Merah where the impacts are still felt until today," SM Mohamed Idris, president of Friends of the Earth Malaysia said in a statement.
The Bukit Merah rare earths plant, which was opened in the 1980s, ceased operations in 1992 after an uproar from local residents who blamed it for a number of birth defects.
Mohamed Idris warned that the new refinery will produce huge quantities of radioactive waste, and urged the government to engage with environmental groups before going ahead with the project.
Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, the head of Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board, said Malaysia has only approved the construction of the Kuantan plant and has not yet given the green light for it to begin operations.
He said the board, one of the government agencies tasked with looking into the safety aspects of the project, will need to be satisfied that it will not lead to a major impact on the public and environment.
"We are looking from the safety point of view. We are continuously measuring the (safety) parameters and collecting samples, we will make sure they control the residue," he told AFP.
Breaking China's monopoly
Raja Abdul Aziz said the Australian firm has proposed turning waste from processing the ore - which is slightly radioactive - into concrete-like objects known as tetrapods to be used to build artificial reefs and sea walls.
He said the radioactive concentration in these objects must be "dilute enough to be very similar to the environment".
World attention has shifted to Australia's nascent rare earths industry after China, which dominates global production, began restricting exports, sending shudders through major consumers Japan, Europe and the United States.
In December, the United States called on China not to use rare earths as a "trade weapon" after Japanese industry said Beijing temporarily cut off exports in 2010 amid a territorial row.
China, which produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earths, has denied any political motivations, insisting the restrictions on exports were due to environmental concerns and the need for a more sustainable approach.
This year the Asian giant has also tightened its grip over the industry by setting tough emission limits on miners producing the lucrative metals.- Malaysiakini, 10/3/2011, Lynas: Rare earth plant operational in Q3