After 27 years, Mahathir has finally admitted to what residents of Menglembu, Bukit Merah, Papan had known all along – the hazards posed by radioactive waste dumps – observes Choo Sing Chye.
Tun Dr. Mahathir had at last admitted, but not all, what the foreign experts (engaged by the residents) had been saying all along i.e., the danger posed by the radioactive waste from the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) company near Bukit Merah and the waste dumps near Papan was indeed genuine and serious.
What Mahathir said a few weeks ago in The Star online (15 May 2010):
“In Malaysia, we do have nuclear waste which perhaps the public is not aware of.”
The answer is that the public is well aware and informed of this nuclear waste and the danger it posed. This was the reason why they took ARE to court.
On 11 July 1992, more than 3,000 residents from Menglembu, Bukit Merah, Papan and other affected areas were present at the Ipoh High Court where the judge, Mr. Peh Swee Chin granted eight plaintiffs an injunction to restrain ARE from operating and storing toxic and radioactive waste. ARE was given 14 days to comply with the order.
Subsequently ARE appealed to the Supreme Court. Barely a month later, on 5 August 1992, the Supreme Court allowed the application by ARE to suspend the Ipoh Court’s order to cease operations pending an appeal by the company.
The parent company in Japan, Mitsubishi Kasei Corporation, immediately wrote a letter to the residents expressing regret over the application by ARE.
The letter reads, “… since the court ordered the plant to be closed down, we believe that the plant should not continue its operation without the harmonisation with the local people, whether this ruling is right or wrong.”
“Consequently, we believe that ARE should not apply for stay of execution of the injunction to stop operation, etc.”
On 23 December 1993, ARE finally won its appeal in the Supreme Court. Lord President Tun Abdul Hamid Omar order that the Ipoh High Court decision on 11 July 1992 be set aside with costs.
Then on 19 January 1994, to everyone’s surprise, ARE announced that it was closing its plant in Bukit Merah. According to them, the closing of its plant was inevitable because of the unavailability of raw material.
Mahathir: “We have to bury the Amang, a by-product from tin mining.”
The truth is, Amang (a tin trailing which is found in an abundance in Kinta Valley) is not buried but is used as a raw material from which Monazite (high value mineral) is extracted. Monazite is a rare earth Othophosphate, containing significant amounts (up to 10 per cent) of the radioactive element Thorium Hydroxide, which is the end product. Thus, radioactive waste Thorium Hydroxide is buried not Amang.
Mahathir: “It is not radioactive but it is not good to handle. We had to bury it in Perak, deep in the ground.”
Thorium Hydroxide waste derived from Amang is radioactive! The radioactivity present in the waste is from the naturally occurring Thorium and Uranium series which will take millions of years to decay.
Mahathir: But the place is still not safe, and we have almost one square mile that is dangerous.”
The public already knew that! Twenty seven years ago, Dr. Sadao Ichikawa, a professor from Saitama University in Japan found highly dangerous levels of radiation. The surface of the drums at the dumpsite produced a reading of 9,000 urad/hr, and on the nearby farm the reading was 140 urad/hr.
The mandatory level agreed between the Perak State government and ARE was only 200 milli-urad/hr.
(He) did not know exactly where in Perak the Amang was buried.
“Maybe it is a national secret but I know for a fact that we buried this activated material,” he said…
In sum, after a gruelling decade-old battle against the Barisan Nasional government led by Mahathir himself, the people of Perak should be told of the whereabouts of these alleged illegal dumps.
The act of keeping these radioactive waste dumps a secret is downright immoral.
Choo Sing Chye is a former Perak state assembly member.