Side Views

Lynas: A ticking time bomb? — Joint Action Group for Gender Equality

March 07, 2012

MARCH 7 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) gave our support for the Himpunan Hijau 2.0 protest of February 26. We joined thousands of our fellow Malaysians in calling for an immediate cancellation of the proposed Lynas rare earth plant.

We understand that this plant would involve the production and handling of radioactive waste materials that are highly toxic and not easily disposed of. Moreover, public concerns about the plant have not been addressed nor have adequate measures been taken to ensure that the plant’s operations pose no threat to the residents of Gebeng and its surroundings.

While we are heartened to see that Malaysians are increasingly mindful of and willing to speak up on issues of public interest, we are disappointed with the government’s dismissive attitude towards the legitimate concerns of ordinary Malaysians on this issue.

If most governments around the world steadfastly refuse to build similar plants in their own countries despite the economic incentive to do so, why is Malaysia going ahead with building this plant?

Development should not come before public health and safety nor jeopardise the integrity of our environment. We are concerned that this plant will not only damage our environment but will have an adverse, lasting effect on the health of those who live around the plant.

We are deeply concerned that the Lynas plant received its licence to operate without a detailed environmental impact assessment. Although Lynas claims to have plans to “recycle” the waste into industrial products, these plans have not been explained. Nor has Lynas identified permanent disposal grounds for the radioactive waste.

There have been reports in international press alleging shoddy design and building materials for the plant. A failure to build according to high standards and follow proper protocol, combined with the material contained within, makes such constructions ticking time bombs.

Mitsubishi’s now-defunct rare earth plant in Bukit Merah sets an alarming precedent. Two decades after ceasing operations, the plant is still in the process of being cleared of radioactive waste. While it was in operation, residents and plant workers faced various horrifying effects of radiation. The government’s decision to grant that plant a licence despite popular resistance caused needless suffering for a prolonged period of time to the community. Such a decision should not be repeated.

Man-made disasters affect women acutely because they intensify existing inequalities in terms of mobility and access to resources. As caregivers, many women bear the burden of supporting the victims of maldevelopment: children born with severe deformities, adults who develop cancer and other illnesses.

Indeed, such maldevelopment affects communities unequally; often it preys on the most vulnerable among us. It is no accident that plants such as this one are built away from centres of politics and affluence and high population density so there is little or no transparency of its operations to the local community.

All Malaysians stand in solidarity with the people of Gebeng and Pahang and for the basic principle that everyone should have the right to a decent life. The onus is on the government to provide a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment for all Malaysians.

Disasters like Chernobyl, Bhopal, or Bukit Merah were not inevitable, but the result of deliberate decisions to put short-term thinking of profits before longer-term concerns about our lives and environment.

Furthermore, it does not become a democratic government to ignore the thousands of protestors who have rallied, written complaints, and voiced consistent and popular objections against this plant.

JAG urges the government of Malaysia to withdraw the Lynas plant licence immediately.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.