They told The Malaysian Insider that this would only compound radiation pollution from a rare earth refinery in the same area that is still being cleaned up at a cost of RM300 million nearly 20 years after it was shuttered.
“To go into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) while controversy is still raging over the Lynas plant in Gebeng beggars belief,” said Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai.
Hong Kong company CVM Minerals Limited and the Perak State Development Corporation (PKNP) signed the MoU over a week ago to explore a 250 hectare site for rare earth.
The Asian Rare Earth (ARE) refinery has been linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven resulting in death.
“As if it is not enough that we have to deal with the problems from ARE, now the state government wants to aggravate the problem” said toxicologist Dr Jayabalan Thambyappa, who treated the Bukit Merah leukaemia patients.
Environmentalists and local residents in Kuantan have warned of a repeat of the ARE saga in their protests against Australian miner Lynas Corp’s RM700 million plant in Pahang.
The Najib administration bowed to public pressure last week and put the Lynas plant on ice pending a month-long review by itnernational experts.
Environmentalists now fear that mining rare earth deposits in Bukit Merah will result in “double jeopardy” for the residents of Bukit Merah.
“The present proposal to mine rare earth here is clearly a case of putting salt on wound,” said Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S. M. Mohamed Idris.
He said that it would be irresponsible of the state government to allow the project to proceed any further.
“As the MOU is not legally binding, it is not too late to terminate this imprudent proposal right now,” he added.
Nesadurai also said that the CVM project would be more dangerous than the Lynas plant as it would be mining the same raw material as ARE.
Lynas has said that its concentrated ore will only contain 1,600 parts per million (ppm) of thorium - the radioactive element found in virtually all rare earth deposits - whereas the amang (tin tailings) used by ARE contained 80,000 ppm of thorium.
Dr Jayabalan, who is a member of the Perak Anti-Radiation Committee (PARC) that fought the ARE plant, added that the local residents group would be activated to fight the CVM plan.
CVM also said in its announcement that PKNP is interested in taking up 135.3 million of CVM’s shares, which is about 4.73 per cent of the company’s total shares issued.
CVM also said that it would be the major shareholder of the rare earths project in Perak, if the two parties do finally agree to ink the deal.
Bukit Merah is part of the area known as Belanja, which covers about 11,137 hectares in the Batu Gajah district and has a multiracial population totalling 26,211 people.