by Hafidz Baharom
I am of the opinion that the rare earth plant will not benefit Malaysia in the long term for a very simple reason. We don’t have the resources to spare. And by resources, I’m talking about the environmental effects that follow.
While some may argue that China seems to have no qualms doing it, permit me to point out two things. Firstly, the People’s Republic of China is a nation that covers 9,671,018 km2. Malaysia is a nation that covers 329,847 km2, which is about 3/100th of China’s land mass. Should a radioactive leak occur or pollution becomes a factor, just where does the government expect the people of Gebeng to head to?
Secondly, China, to offset their pollution, spent US$54.4 billion in 2010 on clean energy expenditure, topping the list with Germany and the United States being second and third. How much does Malaysia spend on the same agenda? I can’t find a mention of it anywhere.
Now, to put matters in perspective, let’s start from the very beginning to see just how screwed up this project has been. A project of this magnitude requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. You can get a copy of the report online, which was posted up in February 2008. The assessment was commissioned by Lynas and conducted by Environcorp.
The report itself has a letterhead that reads “Preliminary Environmental Impact and Quantitative Risk Assessment of the Proposed Advanced Materials Plant”, which is a misnomer. There is nothing quantitative at all about the report.
According to the report, this plant is to be developed on a 100 hectare plot and process 121,036 tonnes of raw lanthanide ore as well as 10,500 tonnes of lanthanide oxide to produce six separate products for exporting purposes. This report, states that the raw material will be imported from Lynas’ Mount Weld mine in Western Australia. This material will be shipped to Kuantan port to the facility, but there is no mention how or which route will be used. And that, my dear readers, is all the quantitative data you will find in the report, other than the justification provided that there is a growing demand for rare earth metals.
To add insult to injury, here’s a line translated in the report’s explanation on the estimated air pollution caused by the plant.
Quoting the report:
“The level of sulfur dioxide over the allowed limits may occur if there is a disturbance in normal operating procedures, but there is a very small probability of this occurring.”
Does that sound ‘quantitative’ enough for you?
Basically speaking, EIA report by Environ Corp Malaysia is vague, misleading and biased towards looking more at profit over planet to the point that this report submitted and placed online by the Malaysian government looks as if a 15-year-old student in a basic Science lab wrote it.
Now let’s look at it from a media perspective.
A statement in The Star by Lynas’ Corporate Communications Vice President entices Malaysians with the promise that this rare earth plant could get Malaysia RM8 billion by 2014.
In April, the Atomics Energy Licensing Board (AELB) came out stating that there has never been an application by Lynas Corp for a pre-operating license.
In the same piece published in the Star, Lynas Chairman Nicholas Curtis came out stating that there was no need to transport the waste to Australia since the ‘water’ will be treated first. But what is questionable is the fact that the Aussies don’t want the ‘water’ produced by Lynas either. And yet, in another article published, it is said that radioactive waste containing thorium produced as a by-product of the refinery will be stored in Kuantan itself. Even worse, if Kuantan is to be the area of storage for radioactive waste, why is our government giving Lynas Corporation a 12-year period tax exemption?!
Who is telling the truth? Is the waste radioactive? Will it be kept in Kuantan or shipped off somewhere to avoid it becoming a threat?
Let’s not talk politics. This isn’t a political issue. It’s one of general safety. We’re a tiny nation of 28 million people. We don’t have China or even Australia’s land mass. While we do have restraints in generating income through foreign investments, surely our federal government has better opportunities than this one. Why is Lynas Corp such an important client, and, vice-versa, why is Lynas Corp so interested in building their plant in Malaysia?
The actions of Lynas, our government agencies and even the Pahang state government are doing nothing more than confusing the public with their double speak and conflicting information that has created a climate of fear and paranoia among the rakyat. The government should be more transparent and address these issues first. Put a project to a halt and review everything, transparently, before we bear the brunt of being known in the future as a radioactive dumping ground.