Malaysia

We’re not your guinea pigs, Beserah folk tell AELB

By Shannon Teoh
July 21, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — Beserah residents have lashed out at local regulators for basing the health impact of a controversial RM700 million rare earth plant being built in Kuantan on whether there is an increase in radiation-linked diseases after it begins operations.

Badan Bertindak Anti-Rare Earth Refinery (Badar) told reporters today that it would be too late as residents would already have suffered from cancer and other diseases by then.

“We don’t want to be guinea pigs. This means the government will only take action after the fact. Once we have leukaemia, how will they address that?” said chairman Andansura Rabu (picture), who himself lives just 2km from the plant being built by Australian miner Lynas Corp.

The Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) said yesterday that Lynas must compile a medical history of residents living near the plant in the Gebeng industrial zone before it can start processing rare earths there.

Director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan said that the residents’ present state of health would serve as a baseline for future comparisons once Lynas begins operations, which the company expects will take place by the end of the year.

“We will see whether there is any increase of people afflicted with radiation-linked diseases or cancer,” he had said.

But Badar said the exercise would only be acceptable if it was for research purposes, not for deciding on the health of the general public.

“Furthermore, what is the action limit? When 20 residents are confirmed to have leukaemia?” Andansura said after a meeting with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry this morning.

A previous rare earth plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh has been linked to diseases such as leukaemia, other cancers and birth defects, including at least seven deaths in the past five years, despite being shut down nearly two decades ago due to public pressure.

Local residents around Kuantan and environmentalists have also strongly opposed the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) due to fears of radiation poisoning and forced the government to order a month-long review that concluded on June 28.

Lynas expects to meet all 11 conditions put forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review panel, which has been adopted by Putrajaya by year-end.

The Australian mining giant has said that its plant — which will extract rare earth metals crucial for high-technology products like smartphones, hybrid cars and wind turbines — will create a RM4 billion multiplier effect annually and 350 jobs for skilled workers.

Although reports say the plant may earn RM8 billion for Lynas, critics have questioned the real economic benefit of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break Lynas will enjoy due to its pioneer status.