MMA concerned Lynas plant will wreak harm

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider-

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) stepped into the controversy today over Australian miner Lynas’ rare earth plant near Kuantan, expressing “grave concern” that waste products could wreak harm on those living nearby.

The association, representing the country’s 13,000 doctors, stressed that the possible health risks presented by radiation from “extremely toxic” thorium outweighed the economic benefits from the project.

“Thorium-232, for example, has a half-life of some 14 billion years and gives off alpha particles. This radionuclide residue is recognised as being extremely hazardous for humans and life forms,” MMA president Dr David Quek said in a statement today.

“Due to the various refining processes, thorium will be enriched and concentrated to levels which could reach quantities that are difficult to contain or be safely sequestrated.”

Dr Quek also said the MMA shared public concern about government reticence over the project despite its controversial nature, pointing out that most Malaysians only learned of the plant’s existence when it was first disclosed in a New York Times article three months ago.

He said the government should have instead placed greater emphasis on public engagement, environmental impact studies, public safety guarantees and “impregnable” long-term waste disposal management, particularly since the plant was located so close to human habitation.

“That such a project has been allowed to be developed, to near completion all these many months, in ‘surreptitious’ concealment or without adequate and forthright disclosure, is troubling and unconscionable,” Dr Quek said.

The Najib administration estimates investment spinoffs of RM2.3 billion from what will be the world’s largest rare earth refinery once operations commence in September after over two years of construction.

The government has agreed to set up a panel headed by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) following mounting pressure from green groups and lawmakers here and in Australia.

Critics fear a repeat of the radiation pollution from the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah near Ipoh, linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal.

Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the ARE plant is still the subject of a massive RM300 million cleanup exercise.

Lynas, however, has given an assurance that the waste products produced by its Gebeng operation will be safe and expects the plant to fire up on schedule despite the month-long review.

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