Let’s not wait for the dead bodies, expert warns about Gebeng plant

Posted on March 14, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider-
By Shannon Teoh
March 14, 2011

A worker waters the site of a rare earth metals mine in Jiangxi. China holds a virtual monopoly on rare earth supply. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — The toxicologist who treated radiation victims linked to the Bukit Merah rare earth plant has dismissed claims there will be no health hazards from a renewed attempt to process the valuable metals in Gebeng, Pahang.A series of explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant damaged in last week’s earthquake in Japan has also heightened fears that it could happen in Malaysia, which is less advanced than Japan.

Apart from the rare earth refinery, Malaysia is looking to build its first nuclear power plant within a decade.

“Let’s not wait for the dead bodies before we count the healthcare costs,” said Dr Jayabalan A. Thambyappa, who is also an occupational safety and health expert.

He told The Malaysian Insider yesterday that “the issue of safe levels of radiation does not arise, carcinogens are carcinogens” and warned that the government was going down the same route as the Bukit Merah refinery that shut down in 1992.

Referring to a report in The Star on Saturday, he said that issuing a pre-operating licence to Australian miners Lynas in Gebeng was exactly what happened in Bukit Merah.

The Atomic Energy Licensing Board said that before Lynas begins operations, a pre-operating licence will be issued so it can show proof of its claims that its raw materials are safe, non-toxic and non-hazardous.

The Asian Rare Earth plant that opened in 1985 has been linked to at least eight cases of leukaemia in the Bukit Merah area, causing seven deaths.

It is now the subject of a RM303 million cleanup exercise, nearly two decades after it was shuttered following sustained protests.

However, Lynas is set to complete its plant in the Gebeng industrial area in Kuantan by next year and has insisted that its rare earth ore has only 2 per cent of the radioactive element thorium that was present in the raw material used in Bukit Merah.

“Whether or not it is 2 per cent the question remains, why do it here? Just because the cost is lower? So are our lives worth less?” said Dr Thambyappa, who also conducted a study on the effects of the rare earth plant on the Bukit Merah area.

He said the government should cease all progress until there was a clear and transparent plan on how to deal with the radioactive waste.

“Nobody has any idea how to handle it yet. We have to follow precautionary procedures and ensure there is no chance of hazard,” he said, adding that Malaysia should heed the lesson from the tsunami that hit Japan, raising fears of radiation leaks from nuclear plants.

“These unforeseen circumstances can happen anytime. What if there are any spills during transport? The fact is, we will be importing hazardous waste,” Dr Thambyappa said.

The New York Times reported last week that the US$230 million (RM700 million) plant refinery will be the first such plant outside China in nearly three decades.

The rest of the world has been wary of the environmental hazards involved in their production, leaving China to control 95 per cent of global supply of rare earth metals.

The metals are crucial to high-technology products such as the Apple iPhone, Toyota Prius and Boeing’s smart bombs.

If prices of the metals stayed at current levels, the Lynas plant would generate over RM5 billion a year in exports for Malaysia, or nearly one per cent of its entire economy.


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One Response to “Let’s not wait for the dead bodies, expert warns about Gebeng plant”

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Lets please not get sidelined with the other real question……………….

” If prices of the metals stayed at current levels, the Lynas plant would generate over RM5 billion a year in exports for Malaysia, or nearly one per cent of its entire economy. “………

that statement is misleading.

For the first 12 years they are going to be non paying guests that will use our resources, leave behind a biotoxic mess and contribute nothing to our economy in the real sense of dollar value.

My question is who does business for nothing in return?

Again we would be the worlds first to adopt such a business system. Risk 700,000 people, risk billions of dollars of matured profitable industries currently operating out of Kuantan and risk an environment that cannot have a dollar value put on it and for what??

0% returns.

Makes me want to cheer Malaysia Boleh!!

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