Dr Mahathir Mohamad has at last admitted - but not all - what the foreign experts (engaged by the residents) had been saying all along ie, that 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 days ago was that: '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 poses. This was the reason why they took ARE to court.
On the July 11, 1992, more than 3,000 residents from Menglembu, Bukit Merah, Papan and other affected areas were present at the Ipoh High Court when then Justice 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, Aug 5, 1992, the Supreme Court allowed the application by ARE to suspend the Ipoh High 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 the Dec 23, 1993, ARE finally won its appeal in the Supreme Court. Lord President Abdul Hamid Omar ordered that the Ipoh High Court decision of July 11, 1992 be set aside with costs.
Then on Jan 19, 1994, to everyone's surprise, ARE announced that it was closing its plant in Bukit Merah. And according to them, the closing of its plant was inevitable because of the unavailability of raw material.
Mahathir said: 'We have to bury the amang, a by-product from tin mining'. The truth is, amang 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%) of the radioactive element Thorium Hydroxide which is the end product. Thus, radioactive waste thorium hydroxide is buried not amang.
Mahathir said: '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 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 said: '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 level of radiation. On the surface of on 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.
Mahathir said: (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'.
In sum, after a grueling 3,000 day battle against the arrogant Barisan Nasional government led by Mahathir, the people of Perak should be told of the whereabouts of these alleged illegal dumps.
The act of keeping these unsafe radioactive waste dumps a secret is downright immoral.