Unplug Lynas plant now to show sincerity, Putrajaya told
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 11 – The government must suspend immediately the Lynas rare earths plant’s trial run to prove its promise to guard Malaysians’ health and safety is not mere rhetoric, green groups here have demanded.
Environmental activists said the recent statement by Lynas Malaysia’s managing director, Datuk Mashal Ahmad, that the company will not ship out its radioactive waste but process it in the country, confirms suspicions that Putrajaya is in cahoots with the Australian miner and are unlikely to pull the plug on the plant ever despite the serious health and ecological hazards posed.
“If the ministry is serious, put words into action immediately. I don’t want ‘immediate’ to be after elections. Do it now. Today,” Himpunan Hijau leader, Wong Tack, told The Malaysian Insider when contacted yesterday.
He pointed out that the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB)’s director-general has previously said the temporary operating licence (TOL) issued to Lynas that has allowed the rare earths producer to fire up its kiln earlier this month was based on the latter exporting its radioactive waste – a point four ministers directly responsible for the portfolio related to the Lynas project reiterated yesterday.
In their joint ministerial statement, Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Douglas Unggah Embas and Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, insisted Lynas must honour its waste removal clause and remove all residue and by-products from its rare earth refinery from the country, in the government’s latest attempt to allay continued public concern over the controversial facility.
The Cabinet had also endorsed this requirement, they added.
“The obligation imposed on Lynas in this matter is very clear. The government will not compromise (on) the health and safety of the rakyat and the environment in dealing with the issue of Lynas,” the ministers said in the statement.
They also said that if Lynas failed to comply with the condition, the AELB was empowered under Section 22 of the Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984 (Act 304) to suspend or revoke the TOL and order Lynas to immediately cease operation.
Sydney-based Lynas Corp repeated yesterday it was committed to following the rules and regulations set by Malaysian regulators.
The company denied it had ever said it would keep the waste in Malaysia, saying that it will convert the residue, which it stressed contained very low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material, into a commercially safe product called synthetic aggregate.
It said Mashal had clearly stated that the synthetic aggregate will be exported to other markets in accordance with international and local standards and regulations where it will be used as civil engineering material.
State news agency Bernama reported Lynas had carried out a demonstration at its plant here on December 7, to show to the public and to reporters that its imported raw material was safe to the public.
The company was also reported that the factory to convert the residue had been built at LAMP and was ready for operation.
The rare earth refinery in Gebeng remains a thorny issue for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government, especially in the run-up to the general election due within months.
But Wong said the government’s actions to date have not shown it had the political willpower to carry out its promise on Lynas since it is still allowing the trial run to go on even though the company violated several other conditions laid down before it was granted the TOL, a point another grassroots leader, Tan Bun Teet, shared.
Tan, the head of the Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) movement, highlighted that the company has yet to identify the site of its permanent waste disposal facility (PDF) and submit plans on treating the waste, despite the AELB giving it a grace period of 10 months to do so.
He said the AELB had awarded Lynas the TOL in early February.
“It’s been 10 months exactly and Lynas has said it will not be exporting its waste. What’s the permanent solution?” he demanded.
“AELB must answer questions,” said Tan, who like Wong, lives in the eastern port city of Kuantan, close to Gebeng where the RM2.5 billion Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) is undergoing a trial run to refine rare earths ore necessary to the manufacture of high technology products like smartphones.
Epidemiologist Chan Chee Khoon stressed that a very pertinent concern regarded the solid powdery waste that LAMP will produce.
Many critics of the rare earths project argued that the waste contain radioactive material that are hazardous to human health and the environment even if in trace amounts and take a very long time, beyond the average human lifespan, to break down into harmless material.
“Now that Mashal Ahmad has finally come clean, is Kuantan-Kemaman facing a repeat of the Ipoh experience – unknown numbers of indiscriminate, open dumpsites at unknown locations, for LAMP’s solid wastes (if its recycling option falls flat),” the health policy analyst at University Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine said.
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh who has been the most vocal opponent of the Lynas project told The Malaysian Insider that the government of the day was trying to pull wool over the public’s eyes by repeating their statements to assuage public fears because the conditions to identify a PDF and to export its wastes were not legally binding.
She said the conditions, based on the 11 recommendations made by global radioactivity regulatory authority, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after visiting the plant last year were only guidelines and not legislated and as such, would not pass muster in a court of law.
But, she insisted, the government has always been able to act against Lynas and suspend its trial run immediately if it wanted to, by invoking the Environmental Quality Act (EQA), which had been amended last year to include an additional clause applicable to Lynas.
“There is a provision in law in the EQA that can put a stop to Lynas, but the government has not shown the political will and commitment to implement the law,” she said.
She said that the clause made it mandatory for a compulsory detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) to be carried out on any project that uses radioactive material or generates radioactive wastes, but that the Department of Environment had not conducted one on Lynas.
“If the government has the political will, the government can enforce the law on Lynas by making a detailed EIA compulsory prior to commencement of operations.
“The government has the law to hold the TOL pending the detailed EIA. A government that is committed will do that,” the PKR politician said.