Malaysia will willingly import radiation

Posted on June 11, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Nation-

In the June 8 Nation, we read about Fraser’s Hill in lovely Pahang state in neighbouring Malaysia.

However, Pahang may not be lovely much longer. While Fukushima is making daily headlines (and making the public more aware of, and fearful of radiation), and as Japan unwillingly continues to export radiation – with Seattle receiving airborne radioactive particles – lovely Pahang plans to open a rare-earth element (REE) refinery. It plans to import radioactive ores from an Australian mine, and in perpetuity store onsite the radioactive waste. That is also a threat for Thailand. The smart Australian government has refused the return of the radioactive waste.

Admittedly the radioactive thorium 232 in REE ores and waste emits only weak alpha particles that cannot even penetrate paper. However, when breathed in or swallowed through contaminated water, they destroy DNA and cause malignancies. The full life of thorium 232 is 28 billion years. Still more worrying is that the REE refinery will also bring uranium-loaded REE from Malawi. An ill wind from the south containing any escaped thorium 232 or uranium would surely radiate Thailand.

Pahang state and Thailand would also have a further worry. China, which controls 95 per cent of world REE production, each year produces more than five times the amount of waste gas, (including deadly fluorine, radioactive radon and sulphur dioxide) than the total flared annually by all miners and oil refiners in the US. Along with that 13 billion cubic metres of gas comes 25 million tonnes of wastewater laced with cancer-causing, DNA-damaging heavy metals such as cadmium. Malaysia plans to refine one-third of China’s output of REE, with not a mention of this so far from the operating company, nor Pahang state officials.

The Australian mining company tried to sneak this in under the radar, with no environmental or health studies. This subterfuge was necessary as Malaysia is still trying to clean up, 10 years after shutting down a previous REE refinery in the same state. Malaysians have rightly started mass protests, after The New York Times exposed these goings-on.

Some higher-ups seem hell-bent on toxifying Malaysia and its neighbours, almost forever, for what? A kickback?

Maybe there is needed a quiet word in the ear of the Malaysian ambassador to Thailand from the Thai counterpart.

Thomas Turk

Vienna

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