‘Nothing wrong holding thorium,’ says Lynas PSC chief
KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — The chairman of a parliamentary panel on the controversial Lynas rare earth refinery moved to allay fears of radiation pollution from the thorium residue, saying that it was safe enough even to hold in one’s hands.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin told reporters this when asked if it was safe to site the Australian miner’s plant near Kuantan residents, about 50 of whom staged a protest outside the gates of Parliament today.
“Some people pegang thorium macam ni takde apa (hold thorium like this nothing wrong),” the Pasir Gudang MP said, holding up his hands at a press conference.
Questions over the safety of the RM2.5 billion project has centred around the possible health risks of radiation from thorium, the main radioactive element in the residue from the plant that Lynas Corp says is “very low” and meets international safety standards.
“Thorium won’t dissolve, that’s why it can be stored. Now even in the United States, by their legislation last year, they are talking about continuous and secure supply of thorium and even Singapore is looking at thorium as future energy (source),” Khaled (picture) added.
Asked if he would stay next to the plant, which is sited 2km of the nearest homes, he replied: “Why not?”
Lynas had said last month that it was on track to start up its rare earth plant in Malaysia within weeks after Khaled called it “the safest rare earth plant in the world.”
This led residents, who staged their protest today, to question the panel’s decision as “this statement shows the committee has already made up its mind as it was made before hearing the protests of the residents.”
The Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group, made up of residents and NGOs opposing the plant, also told reporters outside the Dewan Rakyat that they were not granted immunity during the panel’s hearings, forcing them to walk out.
“What we had to present would have jeopardised the defamation suit,” said Tan Jo Hann, a spokesman, who was referring to Lynas’ ongoing suit against some of the NGOs and individuals from the group.
Lynas cleared probably the last major hurdle to getting its temporary operating licence (TOL) today after the select committee called for the licence to be issued as “scientific facts” show that the controversial Kuantan plant is safe.
The positive feedback tabled in the panel’s report comes just four days after the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI) dismissed an appeal against the Sydney-based firm’s plant by residents living nearby and instead imposed two conditions that Lynas says it will have no problems satisfying.
Lynas also told The Malaysian Insider it will submit proposals today to meet the new terms which appear to be the final obstacles in obtaining a long-awaited TOL which was approved in February but held up due to the challenge from the residents.
However, residents, who filed the appeal to MOSTI, have said they will challenge the minister’s decision in court, calling the conditions “flimsy” and “not specific enough and will in no way safeguard or appease the fears of residents living in the area.” The parliamentary committee on Lynas was approved in the Dewan Rakyat in March amid opposition furore over the alleged lack of terms of reference and suspicion that the nine-man panel would be used to “whitewash” the issue.
Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers also questioned the point of the select committee given that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had already said the government will not be bound by the panel’s findings.
It also said in April that delays in obtaining the licence for its facility, which was initially approved in January, may have “very serious consequences” for the RM80 billion worth of rare earth orders already received as it is “sold out for the next 10 years.”