Archive for June, 2012

Haze goes from bad to worse in Penang

Posted on June 18, 2012. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Star-

GEORGE TOWN – The haze in Penang has worsened, leaving the state at the brink of the “Unhealthy” Air Pollutant Index (API) level.

At 7am yesterday, the API reading recorded in Seberang Prai was 88 but it inched to 90 by 11am before hitting 98 at 5pm just three points short of the “Unhealthy” category which begins at 101.

The situation was only slightly better in Prai where the API went from 82 (7am) to 83 (11am) and 88 at 5pm.

On Penang island, the API at Universiti Sains Malaysia started off at 73 at 7am and rose to 80 by 5pm.

According to the Department of Environment, most of the recorded pollution in the air at all three locations was made of particulate matter, also known as PM10.

The NOAA-18 satellite, which hovers over Borneo Island, recorded a total of 163 hotspots in Sumatra, widely seen as a cause of the worsening haze, as of 4.15pm yesterday.

A check with the Meteorological Department showed that visibility in the state had also worsened during the day.

In Bayan Lepas, visibility was at 6km from 8am to 1pm, then fell to 5km (1pm) and worsened to 4km (2pm to 5pm).

On the mainland, visibility was recorded at 6km (8am to 4pm) before dropping to 5km around 5pm.

According to the department’s official, no rain is forecast for the whole week.

Meanwhile, Penang Water Supply Corporation corporate affairs manager K. Jeyabalan said the state would not suffer a shortage as the two main dams had enough water to last up to three months.

He said the Mengkuang and Air Itam dams were full due to the constant rainfall last month but Penangites should still conserve water because the country was currently facing a hot spell.

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Malaysia dismisses appeal against Lynas rare earths plant

Posted on June 15, 2012. Filed under: Pollution |

Reuters
Friday, Jun 15, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR – The Malaysian government dismissed on Friday a citizens’ appeal against a controversial rare earths processing plant owned by Australia’s Lynas Corp, removing a major obstacle to production.

But the science ministry, which was considering the appeal, added new two conditions Lynas must fulfill before a suspension of its temporary operating licence will be lifted.

The 2.5 billion ringgit (S$1 billion) plant in Gebeng, near the east coast city of Kuantan, has been plagued by delays since construction started two years ago.

Its operation is seen as a crucial step towards easing China’s grip on the global supply of rare earths, and for Lynas to profit from the high prices of the materials which go into making smart bombs, smart phones, and much in between.

Malaysia’s licensing body, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board, gave the plant a two-year temporary operating licence on Jan. 30, but that was suspended after local residents challenged the approval, citing safety and environmental concerns. They argued that the plant could contaminate its surroundings with radioactive waste.

Malaysia’s Minister for Science Technology and Innovation, Maximus Ongkili, said in a letter to the citizens’ lawyers he had to consider whether their arguments were supported by the scientific evidence.

He did not uphold the appeal, but instead imposed further conditions on Lynas. Under the new condition, the firm must submit plans to immobilise radioactive elements in the waste it will produce, and to submit plans for an emergency response on dust control.

“We expected this result, we’ll ask for a judicial review,” said Tan Bun Teet, who leads a group resisting the Lynas plant.

The ministry’s decision removes the biggest of two hurdles remaining before the Lynas plant can start production. A parliamentary select committee looking into the plant’s safety is expected to release its report next week.

The Lynas plant, the biggest in the world outside China, has been standing ready to fire up since early May. Demand is so strong that there are buyers for all the rare earths it can process in its first ten years of operation.

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Malaysia sets 2 new rules for rare earth plant

Posted on June 15, 2012. Filed under: Pollution |

-AP-

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s government has imposed two new conditions on a rare earth refinery set up by Australian miner Lynas to assuage public fears of radioactive pollution.

Tan Bun Teet, who heads the “Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas” coalition, said Friday the group received a letter from the science ministry rejecting its appeal to revoke a license granted to Lynas earlier this year. The letter cited a lack of scientific and technical justification.

Rare earths are 17 minerals used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, weapons, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, mercury-vapor lights, and camera lenses. China has about a third of the world’s rare earth reserves but supplies about 90 percent of what is consumed. It has placed restrictions on exports, sparking causing among manufacturers from Japan to the U.S.

The Malaysian government held a public hearing to review its decision amid protests by residents and civil groups over alleged health and environmental risks posed by potential leaks of radioactive waste. Controversy over the project poses a headache to the government with general elections expected this year.

Tan said the ministry instead told Lynas to submit a plan to immobilize radioactive elements in its waste, and an emergency response plan on dust control.

“The two conditions are flimsy and general in nature. They are not specific enough and will in no way safeguard or appease the fears of residents living in the area,” he told The Associated Press. The group plans to challenge the government decision in court, he said.

The science ministry said in a statement Friday it rejected the coalition’s appeal because there was “no strong justification nor scientific or technical basis” for it.

The ministry said the refinery would only be allowed to operate once Lynas complies with all the requirements, including the two extra conditions.

Lynas officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comments.

The Lynas plant in northern Pahang state will be the first rare earth refinery outside of China in years, and is expected to meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China.

Lynas has said its plant, which has state-of-the-art pollution control, was ready to go but the government review has blocked the company from bringing in raw material. The plant will refine ore from Australia.

Officials said the first phase of the plant cost 1.5 billion ringgit ($472 million), while construction of the second phase costing another 1 billion ringgit ($315 million) has started and is expected to double production capacity once completed by next year.

Lynas said output for the first phase has been sold out for the next decade and that the delay was causing losses to its suppliers and customers.

Malaysia’s last rare earth refinery – operated by Japan’s Mitsubishi group in northern Perak state – was closed in 1992 following protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukemia among residents. It is one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

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Public transport gains support

Posted on June 12, 2012. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

-The Star-

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Improving Urban Public Transport National Key Results Area (NKRA) has shown encouraging results as there is now an increasing number of people choosing public transport as their preferred choice for commuting.

He said the number of people who travelled by bus rose to four million while over 10 million passengers have travelled along the Kelana Jaya Light Rail Transit (LRT) line in 2011.

He said the load factor for buses, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Komuter and LRTs are now more evenly distributed with more people riding the bus while the rail services are less crowded.

In a recent entry to his blog, Najib said customer satisfaction with public transport rose to 53%.

The Government has also taken great strides in improving the quality of public transport.

Even so, he said it is imperative for the Government to provide a solid and reliable public transport infrastructure to keep up with the country’s economic growth.

As such, he said the Government would add more bus lanes, six-car train sets for the KTM Komuter, upgrade the LRT and KTM Komuter stations, provide more parking bays and build a new integrated transport terminal (ITT) in Gombak this year.

Najib noted that issues pertaining to public transport were often brought up during his engagement with the public on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

He said as urban public transport becomes more accessible and efficient, he hopes to see a decrease in the reliance on private vehicles for inter-city travel.

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Pengerang’s Rapid development

Posted on June 12, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

THE first time I set foot in Pengerang was three years ago when a boat capsized, leading to the drowning of a group of illegal immigrants. I was there to cover the incident.

Pengerang’s Rapid  development

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar and Datuk Seri Najib Razak (third from left) looking at the model of the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project in Pengerang. Pic by Hairul Anuar Rahim

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  I  have always been fascinated by the coastal  constituency, which derived its name from a village in  Kampung Pengerang.

  Surprisingly, there is no Pengerang town.

  The biggest town in Pengerang  is Sungai Rengit, which is famous for seafood and views of large ships at sea.

  It is also unique because it is located in the southeastern tip of Johor.

  Pengerang Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said once said the area was at the “edge of the world” as it is rather far away and secluded.

  Prior to the opening of the Senai-Desaru Expressway, getting to Pengerang from Johor Baru required one to drive via the Kota Tinggi trunk road, a journey which could easily take two hours.

   But the new expressway has managed to reduce travelling time by about half an hour.

   So it was with great excitement when I heard of the mammoth development project planned for Pengerang under Petronas.

  The project, known as the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid), is slated for full operations in 2016, and is expected to be bigger than the combined areas of the other Petronas hubs in Kerteh, Malacca and Gebeng in Pahang.

  However, there had also been criticism from certain quarters who tried to stop the project.

  They claim the local community would not be compensated when they are forced to relocate from their homes.

  This was, however, untrue as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had assured the people of Pengerang that compensation totalling RM4.1 million had already been paid to affected fishermen in the area.

  This was needed as  the fishermen affected by the project, who may need to relocate,  require better equipment in order to continue fishing in the coastal area.

  There are plans to build a new fishermen complex in the area.

  Najib said the Fisheries Department and Fisheries Development Board were identifying new locations for freshwater aquaculture to  enable fishermen to diversify their incomes by taking up aquaculture, and not  rely  solely on fishing.

  The federal government, through the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry, had also given  allocations to refurbish and repair  fishermen’s homes.

  All such assistance will hopefully make the relocation process a little easier for Pengerang folk.

  However, there may be some fishermen who may have been left out in the compensation exercise.

  If so, Najib said a committee headed by Johor Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Committee chairman Datuk Aziz Kaprawi has been set up to look into the matter.

  The criticism that came against the Pengerang project has also received the attention of the Sultan of Johor.

  Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar had castigated those who opposed the  project,  describing them as “anti-development instigators”.

  The ruler urged Pengerang folk  not to be duped by those who tried to stop the project, which he said would be a catalyst for their better future.

  “I am saddened that there are those who are against development.

  “I have heard that there are opportunists who try to instigate the people of Pengerang to oppose this project and demand reasonable compensation,” said the Sultan.

  He went on to say that the criticism against  the project was uncalled for, as it was designed to improve the lot of the people.

  Even if one did not  share the sultan’s  view,  one only need to take a look around the sleepy, coastal constituency of Pengerang to know that it is in dire need of development.

  Perhaps the Sultan said it best when he pointed out that with the implementation of the project, children of Pengerang folk would not need to leave their  aged parents to find jobs in cities far away.

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No formal application yet from Kuokuang Petrochemical to invest in M’sia – Mustapa

Posted on June 11, 2012. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

(Bernama) — The International Trade and Industry Ministry has not received a formal application from Taiwan’s Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co to invest in Malaysia, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.

Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the decision for the company to invest in the country would be made by its board of directors and not the Taiwan Government eventhough the government has 43 per cent equity in the company through CPC Corporation.

“However, the board has allowed the company to conduct a feasibility study to build a petrochemical plant in Pengerang,” he said in his written reply to Hee Loy Sian (PKR-Petaling Jaya Selatan).

Hee wanted to know whether Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co had received approval from the Taiwan Government to invest in the RAPID project in Pengerang.

Mustapa said the proposed petrochemical project was still in the initial stage and the company was doing a study to determine the feasibility.

He said the company management had informed the ministry that the plant would be set up at another location if the feasibility study findings showed Pengerang was not a suitable location.

Mustapa said the company must conduct the environmental impact assessment study to gather the people’s feedback on the petrochemical plant before the project was approved by the Department of Environment.

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