Side Views

Development and environmental protection — Lim Sue Goan

September 07, 2012

SEPT 7 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that the people’s happiness index will be included in the country’s development model, making some people mistakenly think that there will be some changes.

The four yardsticks to measure the people’s happiness index are environmental protection, cultural promotion, economic development and good national policy.

Rare-earth refining is an environmental issue. The issuance of a two-year Temporary Operating Licence (TOL) by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) reflected that environmental protection is not the priority consideration. It seems like our happiness index is going to be derailed from those of the international community.

It has been more than a year since the chaos over the rare-earth refinery issue was started and the authorities have indeed taken many moves. However, they still decided to issue the TOL.

On June 30 last year, the International Trade and Industry Ministry as well as the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry listed the 11 recommendations and regulations drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Lynas must comply with before the rare-earth refinery plant was allowed to be put into operation.

On February 1 this year, the AELB announced that Lynas was allowed to apply for a TOL, if it fulfilled five conditions, including waste disposal management.

On June 15, the science, technology and innovation minister dismissed an appeal of three Kuantan residents asking to withdraw the TOL, but promised to add two new waste disposal conditions.

On June 19, a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Lynas rare earth plant presented a report to the Parliament and suggested that the government should issue a TOL to Lynas.

Various conditions and arguments are dazzling and confusing. However, the people can remember clearly that on February 22 this year, four Cabinet ministers had issued a joint statement, saying that the government would continue listening to the views of the public and solve the issue.

On June 22, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said that the Cabinet agreed with the stand of sending the waste out of Malaysia as there was no suitable location for the construction of a permanent waste storage tank.

The authorities might have been satisfied with Lynas’s compliance with the conditions and promises, but forgotten to listen to the public opinion.

Liow said that since Lynas has agreed to ship abroad the residue and thus, the people’s worries have been erased.

Lynas Corp chief executive officer Nicholas Curtis, however, said that the plant is going to recycle waste into by-products and ship them abroad according to the Malaysian and international regulations and requirements. In other words, it is conditional.

If not all waste can be used to produce by-products, how is it going to erase the people’s worries? Will waste be immediately recycled once the plant is put into operation? How is it going to restrain radiation? Is it still necessary to build a permanent waste storage tank?

As a responsible agency, the AELB should take the initiative to hold a press conference to clear all the doubts, instead of issuing a statement of confirmation only after Lynas announced the receipt of the TOL. Such a practice lacks transparency.

The TOL has been issued. There are only two options left for anti-rare earth refinery organisations and the public, namely either the legal or political way. The rare-earth refinery issue sets an example for the anti-cyanide gold mining and anti-Rapid project and thus, it could lead to a series of effects.

The country has been hit by various storms recently, reflecting that the transformation plans have indeed reached a bottleneck and that is also why, the competitiveness ranking has dropped.

It is now the time for the government to think about the national development model. Economic wealth and psychological contentment should be coexistent. — mysinchew.com

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.