Lynas issue: Not learning from bitter experience

— Richard Pendragon
The Malaysian Insider
Apr 12, 2012

APRIL 12 — Every Malaysian should know that Australia has a land mass 58 times bigger than peninsular Malaysia. But the Australian government and people have not permitted rare earth processing to take place on Australian soil.

With a population that is vigilant and a government that answers to the people, Australia dares not permit a rare earth plant because the health and environmental risks are too high. Why does Malaysia – a country with less scientific and engineering expertise – think it is all right to go ahead with the plant?

The USA has closed most of its mines, and so has China. In inner Mongolia, vast tracts of lands and thousands of square kilometres have been rendered hazardous, with toxic runoffs destroying everything in their path, and with high radioactivity, tainting and polluting precious water supplies.

This chain reaction will continue for thousands of years.

It is a scene that Chinese officials do not want the world to see. Several villages close to rare earth plants have already been relocated because of pollution.

Malaysia is now planning to build the world’s largest rare earth plant. This is truly madness of the highest order. We must remember the Chernobyl meltdown which was not supposed to have happened and similarly too the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan.

Peninsular Malaysia would be dead meat if any unexpected catastrophe happens.

Bukit Merah

The history of the rare earth industry in Malaysia is little known to most Malaysians. Most Malaysians in fact think that the Lynas project in Pahang is the first time Malaysia has been associated with this industry.

Few Malaysians actually know that there was a rare earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak, which has been closed some 10 or more years ago, following a ruling by the High Court of Malaysia that the company involved was in negligence, and that the radioactive waste generated by the plant was dangerous and had to be removed and secured in a safe place away from people for hundreds of years.

The evidence of the hazardous legacy of this rare earth plant is still present in our midst as a reminder to every one of the risks involved. All you need is to take a trip to Bukit Merah and you will see the existence of a restricted site where the toxic radioactive waste has been stored in specially engineered concrete cells, and entombed deeply in a repository, to prevent any leakage of radiation from the radioactive waste for the next few hundred years.

The company that was involved in the rare earth plant was called Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE). This was a joint venture established between Mitsubishi Chemical Corp (MCC) of Japan, Beh Minerals Sdn Bhd, the local partner and the government, through Tabung Haji in the early nineties.

ARE was based in Menglembu, Ipoh and the joint venture was founded on the basis that the local partner would supply the raw materials (tailings from the many tin mines in Perak) and MCC would provide the technology and expertise to extract the rare earth minerals, by a cracking process.

In this cracking process, along with the extraction of rare earth minerals such as Monazite, Xenotime, Zircon, Yttrium etc, a waste product called thorium hydroxide is produced and this substance is radioactive.

Experts brought in to present evidence in support of the court hearing against ARE testified that prolonged exposure to radiation leaked from the radioactive waste materials from ARE’s rare earth plant would be harmful to the health of the residents living in the Menglembu area, where the plant was located.

ARE was subsequently closed and wound up.

The shareholders of the company had to engage a highly specialised radioactive waste management consultancy firm from the US, called Dames and Moore, to relocate, treat and dispose of the radioactive waste from the dump site in Menglembu to a safe repository. The cost of the whole exercise ran into hundreds of millions of US dollars to contain radiation leak from the radioactive waste.

Meanwhile local residents have blamed the ARE refinery for the high numbers of birth defects and leukaemia cases within the last five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years of local history with no leukaemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have died.

Some of the surviving residents of Bukit Merah are still plagued with severe health problems. Until this very day, the Malaysian authorities refuse to acknowledge that the radioactive waste was responsible for the sudden escalation of health problems among the residents

Today, the government is the official custodian of this repository in Bukit Merah. This site in Bukit Merah is declared as a restricted and dangerous dump site for radioactive materials but a curtain of official silence has descended on it.

Learning from Bukit Merah

Has the government not learnt from Bukit Merah or will corporate profits, lack of transparency and accountability, and cronyism trump responsible and ethical governance?

The Lynas project is likely to be a replay of the ARE fiasco but on a much larger scale. The Lynas project involves the shipment of rare earth raw materials from Australia to Malaysia, and the extraction of the rare earth minerals in the rare earth plant in Gebeng. The cracking process to extract the rare earth minerals will similarly produce thorium hydroxide.

Little attention has been paid to the containment process of this hazardous radioactive waste which will be generated once the Rare Earth Plant comes into production. Notwithstanding the high risks nature of the Lynas project, there are few benefits that Malaysia could gain by having such a hazardous project on our shores.

Lynas and its crony local contractors and shareholders will be the major beneficiary from such a project. They will be able to export the rare earth minerals at a huge profit and enjoy a 20-year tax holiday since the project is approved and supported by the Malaysian government.

At the same time they will leave behind a whole lot of radioactive waste on Malaysian soil, free from the stringent environmental scrutiny and monitoring found in developed countries.

Apart from creating a handful of jobs in the Gebeng area, the only people who stand to benefit from this project other than Lynas owners and shareholders, are the people who build the cracking plant in Gebeng and those who supply chemicals to the plant for the cracking process.

Who are these stakeholders and why have they continued to remain in the dark and unaccountable?

Malaysians must ask the question: “Why did the Government approve the Lynas project?” It does not seem to make any sense when:

The Malaysian court under the same government has ruled that the rare earth plant, in the case of ARE, is regarded as hazardous. The evidence is there to be seen by everyone in Bukit Merah where the repository is located. “

The benefits gained by Malaysia from the Lynas investment are very little relative to the risks involved. Whilst the profits of the project go to Lynas (untaxed) and the few Malaysian companies that are involved in the construction of and the provision of supplies to the Gebeng rare earth plant, the radioactive waste will remain in Malaysian soil for hundreds of years.

The argument that with proper containment, the risks will be rendered harmless, does not hold. Containment, as we know and have seen, is only as good as when there is no accident. Look at Chernobyl and Fukushima. These nuclear reactors are all supposed to have adequate and radiation leak-proof containment features approved by so called international experts.

All Malaysians must ask the government why the Lynas project was approved in spite of the history of ARE and the lack of economic justification of how this project could benefit Malaysians relative to its high and unacceptable risks.

All Malaysians must stand together and demand the closure of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP).

Unacceptable risks of thorium

“No monetary returns of whatever Foreign Direct Investment and its spinoffs can outweigh possible radiation and/or other health risks, which can wreak harm on our citizens, perhaps for as long as the half-lives of some of the extremely toxic radionuclide waste products —which in some cases might be ‘forever’!”

Dr David KL Quek, President, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), May 26, 2011

One of the most contentious issues with the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant is the thorium (Th) by-product. Exposure to Thorium can cause cancer posing serious risks to workers at the LAMP and surrounding communities. Studies have shown that inhaling thorium dust causes an increased risk of developing lung cancer, and cancer of the pancreas. Bone cancer risk is also increased because thorium may be stored in bone. Thorium has a half life of 14 billion years and is easily transported and spread through wind and water.

Lynas will be processing 10 times the amount of ore compared to the ARE. Despite Lynas’ public proclamation of “Zero Harm” commitment there is no foolproof containment measures for such toxic residue for workers onsite at the LAMP. It should be noted that the ores that Chinese miners were exposed to in Bayun Obo Rare-Earth and Iron Mine contained 400 ppm of thorium. The rare earth oxide concentrates that will be arriving shortly at Kuantan port will have 1600 ppm of thorium. The US Public Health Service (1990) reports that the natural background level in soil is typically 6 ppm of thorium.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Thursday, 12 April 2012 - 8:41 pm

    ///Why did the Government approve the Lynas project?///

    That is Najib’s 1Malaysia: Profit first, money now!

  2. #2 by Taxidriver on Thursday, 12 April 2012 - 10:18 pm

    UNMO is strung together with money. The party will disintegrate very fast and its Malay supporters will run helter- skelter like monkeys do, similar to what we can see when the big tree falls. Lynas is UNMO.s lifeline. Nevermind the risks that it will bring, so long as it can keep UNMO breathing, the UNMO thieves will be happy lol

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 12 April 2012 - 10:22 pm

    Australia is Najib’s and Rosmah’s favourite country for shopping, holidaying and everything else. They will bend over backwards to please them Aussies like that aborted refugee exchange thingy and now Lynas. What next, Ah Jib Gor?

  4. #4 by cseng on Thursday, 12 April 2012 - 11:50 pm

    Nothing bitter for BN in the case of ARE, where the bitter experience?

    It is business as usual, what learning? The only learning is Melayu mudah lupa as what TDM said..

    These are the cronology compilled by CAP, publised in MI before, in-case you miss these. See how Malaysian betrayed other fellow m’sian


    Sept 22: ARE claims it has spent more than RM2 million to upgrade safety measures (as required by the court) that follow IAEA standards. It invites an American atomic energy expert, EE Fowler (formerly with the IAEA), to visit the factory. Fowler states that radiation levels near ARE facilities have met ICRP standards and that the factory is safe for operation.

    Oct 5: About 3,000 residents in and around Bukit Merah stage a demonstration against ARE’s plan to keep radioactive waste in its permanent dump in the Kledang Range.

    Oct 28: Ichikawa, on his second trip to Bukit Merah, reveals that radiation around the ARE factory is still above the acceptable level. He is denied entry into the factory.

    Nov 16: A team from AELB checks out a few illegal thorium waste dump sites in Bukit Merah. It is assisted by ARE ex-contractor Ng Toong Foo, who had carried out the dumping. Readings at one dump are between 0.05-0.10 millirems/hour, above the maximum safety level of 0.057 millirems/hour set by the ICRP.

    Nov 26: Residents of Bukit Merah, Lahat, Taman Badri Shah, Menglembu, Papan, Falim and Guntong form the Perak Anti-Radioactive Committee (PARC).

    Dec 8: Minister Kasitah Gadam of the Prime Minister’s Department says that radiation levels at two illegal dumps in Bukit Merah checked by AELB are safe. He says that although the AELB found that the levels exceeded the normal radiation levels this does not pose a danger as such dumps are few in number.

    Feb 6 : Disregarding the High Court injunction to ARE to stop operations, the Malaysian AELB grants a licence to ARE to resume operations.
    April 10: Fourteen foreign experts invited by PARC to Bukit Merah are denied entry into ARE. At a forum held in Bukit Merah, these experts concur that ARE presents severe health hazards.

    April 12: About 10,000 people march through Bukit Merah in protest against the resumption of operations by ARE.

    May 24: Federal Reserve Unit police disperse about 300 people demonstrating near the ARE plant. More than 20, including three women, are injured in two clashes. ARE’s construction work for a road to the proposed permanent dump site in the Kledang Range is halted by residents.

    July 23: A Canadian doctor, Bernie Lau, is engaged by PARC to set up radon gas detectors outside ARE. He finds significant amounts of radon gas escaping from the plant.

    Sept 7: The hearing of the suit filed by Bukit Merah residents against ARE begins before Justice Peh Swee Chin in the Ipoh High Court. About 1,000 show up in court to give their support.

    Sept 11: Residents march from Bukit Merah to the Ipoh High Court for the last day of hearing. Their number in the court grounds swells to 3,000.

    Sept 18: Bukit Merah residents file contempt proceedings against ARE for breaking the injunction granted to them by the Ipoh High Court in 1985.

    Oct 27: More than 100 people are detained under the Internal Security Act. Among them are PARC officials. They are freed after two months.

    November : ARE starts building the permanent waste dump in the Kledang Range.


    Jan 25: The trial resumes.


    Feb 13: The trial comes to a close after 65 days of hearing stretched over 32 months.


    July 11: The people of Bukit Merah win their suit against ARE. The Ipoh High Court orders the shutdown of the ARE factory within 14 days.

    July 23: ARE files an appeal at the Supreme Court against the High Court order. Mitsubishi Chemicals in Japan tells PARC that ARE filed the appeal without the corporation’s consent.

    July 24: Following an ex parte application by ARE, the Lord President of the Supreme Court suspends the High Court order to ARE to stop operations.

    Aug 3: Over 2,000 people from Bukit Merah turn up at the Supreme Court to hear the appeal. However, the judges postpone the hearing to Aug 5 because of “pressure exerted by people picketing” outside the courtroom.

    Aug 5: The Supreme Court allows an application by ARE to suspend the High Court order. According to the judges, the closure would bring hardship to the company and its 183 workers.


    March 15: The scheduled hearing of the appeal filed by ARE at the Supreme Court is postponed.

    Dec 23: The Supreme Court says it overturned the High Court decision on two grounds. The court is of the opinion that ARE’s experts were more believable in the results of the radiation tests. Secondly, the judges say, the residents should have gone back to the AELB to ask that it revoke ARE’s licence, because AELB has the power to do so under the Atomic Energy Licensing Act. The Atomic Energy Licensing Act, however, does not have any provision for appeals by affected communities or the public for the revocation of a licence granted to a company.
    Despite the success of ARE in their appeal, the company later stops operations and begins cleaning up, due to public pressure both nationally and internationally.


    Jan 19: ARE announces the closure of its Bukit Merah plant.


    Nov 6: ARE, in a letter to the Consumer Association of Penang, says it has not begun the decommissioning and decontamination of the Bukit Merah plant. It says this will happen only when the Perak government and ARE finalise an agreement.


    A decommissioning and decontamination exercise begins.
    About seven years later, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad said “a small amount” of nuclear waste was buried in Perak.
    “In Malaysia,” he said, “we do have nuclear waste, which perhaps the public is not aware of. We had to bury the amang in Perak, deep in the ground. But the place is still not safe. Almost one square mile of that area is dangerous.”
    Following his remarks, The Star reported that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste were being kept at the dump in the Kledang Range. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.
    The Papan-Bukit Merah story is a tragedy of betrayal of leadership. It is about people in power losing their moral compass to the pull of profit.
    Will the Gebeng story be just as tragic?

  5. #5 by monsterball on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 12:07 am

    All project worth billions with billions involving after sales service are important to UMNO b for opportunities to keep stealing legally.
    It’s their ONLY way to govern forever,…..keep stealing….keep bribing for votes.
    It’s Mahathir’s advice…saying “Money is power”.
    When people are using money for power….knowing there are plenty to steal….these people see no logic.
    They only know how to plan and grab them all.

  6. #6 by monsterball on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 12:19 am

    They are heartless creatures mastering the acts to be caring and sharing…fooling as many as they can.
    For the poor and less educated…..they behave like Santa Clause…giving money away.
    For the middle class….it’s caring and sharing..carrying babies…eating together…behaving like one of them.
    For the rich…they feel these will keep supporting them…thus increase in petrol price…no problem.
    It’s the cheap petrol they must keep the price low,
    UMNO b has found Malaysians are getting smarter and smarter…and Najib applying all sorts of stunts to fool Malaysians.
    Under Najib…Malaysia is getting worst than before.
    We cannot see that….because our country is so blessed with so much natural resources..and billion earned from exports.
    This is not due to UMNO b so call good governance.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 12:49 am

    ahCHEATkor n UmnoB: bcos of $$$$, bcame got eyes but C not, got ears but hear not, got NO brain what 2 do; everything smells of CORRUPTION, just like MMK’s era

  8. #8 by Godfather on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 2:07 am

    Bitter experience ? Nah, for certain UMNOputras it’s a BETTER experience.

  9. #9 by Godfather on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 2:10 am

    They have mansions in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Ottawa. They have private jets and helicopters. What is Gebeng or Kuantan to them ?

  10. #10 by GodIsWatching on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 4:16 am

    LYNAS somehow frames the beauty of BN’s feat of failures in their governance of this country since it by far, bears the loveliest name to the many doomed-from-the-beginning projects and initiatives that the government has proudly showcased… Failed my first housing loan scheme, disastrous 1Care, deceptive and extravagant 1Malaysia mantra, substandard Kedai 1 Malaysia, Klinik 1 Malaysia , failed education system … Radioactive is too complicated a science for the simple lowly minds of the BN government for them to actually comprehend the arising risks and imminent dangers associated with it I’m afraid.

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 5:58 am

    Y Has an Ali n Perkosa NO go 2 Kuantan 2 protest 1?
    Has an Ali n Perkosa so want 2 b Gr eat Protectors of Mus lims, they should go permanently 2 B.unei 2 counsel fomer wife – ‘I enjoy gambling’

  12. #12 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 8:37 am

    ///Why does Malaysia – a country with less scientific and engineering expertise – think it is all right to go ahead with the plant? ///

    Errr because we have angkasawan??

    And errr weeellll we have jib. Yeah jib. And and ros. Yeah. And ros! Ros and jib. The prime minister and her husband.


  13. #13 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 8:50 am

    We have laws. We have standards. And they are all very strict and high. In fact our laws and standards are the strictest and highest in the world. Yeah. Just like our democracy. Nothing less than the best in the world.

    Err but sir, what about enforcem..? Ouch ahhhh aduh aaaduuuh ahhhhhhhhh ….. Another unfortunate guy was forced to commit suicide by jumping off the 5th flr window of a certain building. He asked one question too many.

  14. #14 by Winston on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 8:58 am

    Actually, the crux of the Lynas matter is quite simple.
    The Aussie government is very happy that this company can make money mining rare earth.
    But what it is very unhappy about is with the shit being left behind (the radioactive wastes).
    That, they will not allow to have in their own backyard.
    Now, the company will look for a country that will allow all kinds of shit, including radioactive ones in its backyard.
    NZ and Singapore are out because these countries, although nearer than Malaysia are very transparent and caring about their citizens and will not allow any tomfoolery within its borders.
    Next, Indonesia and the Philippines.
    Both countries now have a much better version of government compared with a few years ago and may not permit this business.
    But in addition, they have earthquakes, active volcanoes and an active insurgency.
    So, they are out.
    Now, the obvious ideal choice will be Malaysia.
    It’s an ideal partner for this company because it has a corrupt and opaque government.
    And the laws are what the government makes of them!!
    Which is highly favourable.
    So, no need to look further!
    And of course the fact that local manufacturers also find the laws or lawlessness very favourable especially for those engaged in making highly toxic materials as they can dump their wastes in the Malaysian jungle with impunity is also very encouraging.
    It is a rarity that someone stumble across such wastes and the resulting hue and cry will last only a short while.
    As one former PM said, “Malaysians have short memory”.
    What with the MSM completely controlled by the government, reporters dare not kick up too much of a fuss, do they?
    So, now the stage is set for the company to operate in the Malaysian paradise.
    Its oft repeated promise to send the waste back to the country of origin (Australia) is just a mirage because that government has already steadfastly refused to accept any shit in its backyard.
    Or is this company having greater authority than the Aussie government?
    And with Malaysian law enforcement being non existent, for all any knows, the famous way of disposing of toxic wastes cheaply, will be followed.
    The government likes to call those who go against it as traitors but what does one call a government that is hell-bent on exposing its citizens to toxic wastes?

  15. #15 by DAP man on Friday, 13 April 2012 - 4:21 pm

    BN has no conscience, no scruples, no principles. They will sell their mothers and daughters for money.
    Their God is money. Money is their God.

    Now how can you speak reason with them?

  16. #16 by boh-liao on Saturday, 14 April 2012 - 7:58 am

    Just 4 DIS REASON ALONE (approving Lynas 2 operate here), rakyat MUST REJECT UmnoB/BN n VOTE 4 PR in d next GE

    UmnoB/BN totally incompetent n so CORRUPT dat they don’t bother abt d SAFETY n FUTURE of fellow M’sians
    So too Perkosa – UmnoB n Perkosa try 2 turn dis Lynas thingy into a racial issue, damn them all 2 H el l

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