Why Malaysia is not ready to process rare earth in Gebeng or anywhere else, for that matter

Posted on April 12, 2012

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I came upon an excellent article written by one Gan Pei Ling in the Nutgraph.

I would urge you to read her thoughts first before you continue reading mine here.

She opines that the anti-Lynas movement is based on an “irrational fear over radiation pollution from the low-level radioactive waste of thorium and uranium rather than informed opinions on the issue”.

To her credit, she also zeroes in on the failure of the authorities to publicise the project before approving the refinery’s construction in 2008, hold public briefings to inform the surrounding communities about the plant, and the error on the part of the Pahang government to approve construction without first finding a suitable location for Lynas to store its low-level radioactive waste.

Is my opposition to Lynas based on a fear of the possibility of hazardous exposure to radiation?

Of a certainty, yes.

The all-important question, though, in response to Ms Gan, is, are my fears irrational?

I take ‘irrational’ to mean ‘without basis’ or ‘without giving thought to all relevant considerations’.

I accept, as she contends, that “rare earth elements are increasingly being used in our consumer products including electronic screens, disk drives, MP3 players and hybrid cars”.

To oppose Lynas and yet use all these consumer products may well smack of rank hypocrisy, unless our concerns go beyond just the matter of the potential radiation from rare earth.

Which, I will contend, is the case here.

Ms Gan suggests that compared to the situation in China, now touted as the biggest producer of the rare earth elements, “Malaysians are in a much better position to scrutinise the government and corporations. Some may argue that Australia is a much more advanced democracy with more stringent environmental regulations”.

“But why can’t we pressure our own government to live up to the same, if not better, standards?”, she asks.

Here, Ms. Gan, lies the very heart of my misgivings with this move to process rare earth in my country.

I will put my case in three parts so that you will see that it is not irrational.

You may not agree with my rationale, Ms. Gan, but consider if they are legitimate.

First, the way of life we are accustomed to.

Everyone is busy attending to their own daily lives.

We leave governance and all it entails to, well, the government.

From rubbish collection to national defence, our way of life necessitates that we leave all matters of governance in their hands, hoping always that they will not betray the trust reposed in them.

This first consideration of mine brings me immediately to my second concern in connection to the Lynas issue, which is the systemic corruption that has seemingly  become second nature in our system of administration.

In the context of the Lynas refinery plant and the proposed waste disposal dumpsite, I ask myself who will ensure that they comply with the highest possible safety specifications?

Who will ensure that if the foundations are to reach 30 feet below ground level, that they do not  stop at just 10 feet?

Who will ensure that if the disposal site walls are specified to be of a certain concrete strength and reinforced with a certain measure of steel, that they are indeed so?

Government inspectors and enforcement officers?

Who was it that supervised the construction of the stadium in Terengganu, where the roof came crashing in not too long ago?

And the Cold Storage building in Section 14, PJ, that came tumbling down like a stack of cards?

Highland Towers in Ampang?

Read the damning judgment of the High Court that found culpability on the part of the local authorities in the supervision of its construction.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I turn to consider that I am dealing with a government that is today, complete devoid of any credibility.

Not too long ago, the then BN government led by Dr M assured the people of Bukit Merah that the rare earth refinery plant located there was safe.

We know differently today.

Najib’s administration would today have us believe that the plant in Gebeng and the disposal site, wherever it might be located, will be safe.

I ask you, Ms Gan, what have we seen in the present administration of Najib that should move us to lend any credibility to these assurances?

These, Ms Gan, are my thoughts that have led me to oppose Lynas commencing operations in my country to process rare earth.

Seen in this light, you may well appreciate now that my concerns are not so much the risks that rare earth pose per se, but the real risk of radiation brought on by a disaster owing to dishonest and corrupt management by the authorities of this project.

What would move me to agree to a plant being set up here?

First, we remove BN from Putrajaya.

Whether through the ballot box or otherwise.

Then allow the new government two terms to convince us that they are as clean, honest, and trustworthy as we expect them to be.

Achieve this and we may then be ready for a rare earth refinery plant in our country.

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