The return of the Lynas bogeyman

Arveent Kathirchelvan


LETTER | Amidst a busy period, I noticed the topic of Lynas Corp rising once again with Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof stating removing Lynas will not be an option to safeguard the interests of foreign investors. As a response, Fuziah Salleh lamented that a lot of government ministers were buying into Lynas’s propaganda when in actual fact it brings untold dangers to the people of Gebeng. Wong Tack bristled when he suggested to Redzuan to keep in his lane and not meddle in the affairs of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin.

Following this, netizens everywhere began making fun of the Entrepreneur Development minister saying his idea of a flying car was a dead duck and now he is prioritising profits over the people’s health. Whilst the schadenfreude is rich, we must first assess whether the ground that we stand on has any merit.

For months now I have been championing Lynas’s cause in my limited capacity, calling out the hypocrisy of the current government in managing environmental issues. I started by saying the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) has been proven to be, for over six years, compliant to all guidelines stipulated by the AELB and to all environmental laws. This was proven to be true in the report of the Lamp Operations Evaluation Executive Committee commissioned by the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC).

Naively, I thought that was where the story would end. The evaluation committee mostly exonerated Lynas, found pertinent environmental impacts, some concerning Lynas itself, and gave suggestions with which to move forward. There was no need to remove any wastes or even shut down the processing plant. All was well.

Unfortunately, Wong Tack, Fuziah Salleh and Yeo Bee Yin did not feel this was good enough. They had redoubled their efforts to get Lynas to remove their wastes back to Australia, certain that Lynas was found to be a major pollutant and dangerous when, in actual fact, none such findings exist.

I continued defending Lynas but the story is getting stale. So I must caution Malaysians on one crucial matter. Before we support or denigrate any party, we must be mindful of the facts of a case. Lynas’s operations are to process rare-earth metals contained in ores to be exported. These metals are used in electrical equipment and even solar panels. They are not a nuclear power plant. However, in extracting these metals, wastes are produced. Some of these wastes contain what are known as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (Norm) which emit some radiation.

Whilst this is true, one must remember that radiation is not always dangerous. Exposure limits do exist. If the exposure limit is not breached, there is no risk of adverse effects. Lynas has been proven time and again that the exposure limits as defined in law have not been breached. In fact, the limits used by Lynas are far lower than those recommended. After multiple times being audited throughout the years, Lynas has not once been found to be non-compliant.

The wastes Lynas produces are also subject to recycling. The residue management for Lamp has been in line with Mida requirements that are stated in the licensing terms:

i) recycling the waste; or

ii) disposing the waste in permanent disposal sites; or

iii) exporting the waste to its country of origin

The report also mentions Lamp utilises the internationally practised "dilute and disperse" methodology to deal with WLP. The report also mentions that the action to be taken by Lynas is staggered in such a way that first, they must do R&D on the management of the waste. If that fails, they must move on to building a PDF. If that fails, they then must remove the wastes back to its country of origin. 

Lynas is still in the R&D stage. Their research has not been commercialised yet. Anyone who has done lab work can attest to this fact. Simply put, you may be able to produce something that works but it might not be viable through some factors, usually in terms of cost.

But again, this has been said before. The facts remain unchanged. There is this nauseating fear and misinformation that has been permeated by individuals and certain NGOs. They are either intellectually dishonest or wholly misinformed. If it is a position of fear they are coming from, this might be due to the Asian Rare Earth scandal from Bukit Merah. Lynas is probably the furthest from that incident in terms of transparency and compliance. The evaluation committee report proves that.

All in all, the opposition to Lynas is based on fanciful imagination of scientific probabilities that do not exist. What I mean by this is that people continue to use supposed facts such as having to take into consideration the daughter nuclei of radioactive atoms when in actual fact, these have already been factored in. 

Another matter used is the amount of waste being stored. These have been explained to the umpteenth time already, but I am tired of constantly having to point out basic facts to those who continue to not listen. 

I have covered most of them before and encourage you to revisit my articles. Let us stand together against the tide of politically fuelled anti-science.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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