“We have to work together to fight the tyranny of economic supremacy that puts profit above people and the environment,” said an expert at a seminar organised by Save Malaysia Stop Lynas.
On the morning of 24 November 2013, about 150 concerned Malaysians attended a seminar to gain an in-depth understanding of the Lynas rare earth refinery project in Malaysia from eminent international and local experts at the Mandarin Court Hotel. The experts shared their knowledge of the issue and expressed concern for Malaysia.
Expensive toxic legacy in the making
Gerhard Schmidt, a senior scientist and toxic and radioactive waste expert from the Oeko Institute in Germany, has done a thorough analysis and evaluation of Lynas’ waste and pollution blue print.
He said, “In Europe, past mistakes have costed the public a lot of money to clean up decades later till today, not counting the health care costs that might have resulted from the hazards. The Malaysian government should take the scientific advice to require Lynas to manage its waste and pollution to international best practice standards and not to leave another expensive toxic legacy.”
SMSL had requested for meetings with the two regulators – the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and the Department of Environment (DoE) as well as for a plant visit at the Lynas plant whilst our experts were around. The government did not respond and Lynas wanted the visit to happen in December, by which time the experts would have gone.
Dr Peter Karamoskos, a nuclear medicine physician and radiologist and public representative on the Radiation Health Committee of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa), explained to the audience how international radiation safety standards are set and promoted.
He commented, “The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acknowledges that radioactive waste poses a threat to human health and therefore must be managed properly in a scientifically sound manner. We cannot determine if a project is safe until there is transparency both at the company and the governmental levels. In the case of Lynas, the lack of transparency is a major problem. Malaysia really has to make sure its regulation is implemented to prevent any runaway risk to the public for many generations to come.”
Financing of a toxic project
The Lynas project was made possible through finance provided by the Japanese government through the Japan Oil, Gas and Metal Corporation (JOGMEC).
Professor Yoshihiko Wada from the Doshisha University in Kyoto said, “We have to work together to fight the tyranny of economic supremacy that puts profit above people and the environment. We need to make the Japanese Government more accountable for their financing. We have to make sure that their investment is done in accordance with their own established ‘Environmental and Social Guidelines.’
“I urge concerned Malaysians to use this leverage to exert political pressure on the Japanese government. We can request for formal inquiries that can be submitted through Members of the Diet (parliamentarians), as well as educating the mainstream media,” he added.
Is a safe rare earth plant possible?
If Lynas is serious about its corporate social responsibility and in living up to its ‘green’ image, the findings and recommendations of the Oeko evaluation report should have prompted the Australian company to change or at least initiate the following:
- come up with a completely new waste management concept to comply with international best practice,
- build new interim storages for their wastes with a really thick liner underneath to prevent leaks,
- come up with a site for a Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) with excellent isolation conditions and nominated in consent with the then-affected communities,
- put in place an additional cleaning stage for acids in their off-gas treatment stage.
Schmidt remarked, “To my disappointment, Lynas has not done that and the Malaysian government has not acted in its duty of care to make Lynas do that in the interest of its citizens and the environment and for the country’s long-term well being.”
Tan Bun Teet from SMSL concluded, “Our government kept claiming that the Lynas plant is scientifically safe. This is why we have sought scientific input from credible and independent scientists and professionals who can provide us with their opinion and views without prejudice, fear or favour. We will continue to campaign on the Lynas issue to build a safer Malaysia. This is just another step we have taken.”