LETTER | The recently announced decision by the government compelling Australian rare earth producer Lynas to end its production of radioactive waste in Malaysia must be lauded by all Malaysians and Asian countries in general.
There is more to this issue than just economics and the environment. For centuries, western states, the so-called First World countries, have plundered the resources of Third World states, imperiling their future. In addition, they have also sought to undermine the value of Asian lives by attempting to turn them into their dumping ground for nuclear waste.
This decision by the government goes a long way to establishing boundaries and exerting sovereign rights.
The government's decision demonstrates that it is steadfast in principle, independent, and not bowing to external pressure, especially from countries that typically produce this waste and dump it into 'Third World' countries.
Although Malaysian regulators have renewed the operating licence for Lynas rare earth unit, they retained conditions preventing Lynas from importing and processing rare earth concentrate after July 1.
The conditions are related to cracking and leaching activities, generating water leach purification residues, and importing lanthanide concentrate from Australia.
Lynas, the world's biggest producer of rare earth outside China, will need to close the cracking and leaching part of its rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, Pahang if the conditions are not met.
The Science, Technology, and Innovation Ministry warned Lynas that its renewed licence for its rare earth refinery could be revoked if it does not comply with conditions that have been set out by the government.
Under its new permit, Lynas can continue other parts of processing until March 2026.
The case of dumping nuclear waste onto countries like Malaysia is not new and has been always the modus operandi of exploitation from the US and its allies.
These so-called developed states merely expose themselves as hypocrites when it comes to environmental protection and policies, as they try to 'preserve their environment', while at the same time, they destroy and place massive burdens on developing countries to deal with hazardous waste like nuclear.
The severity and challenges in managing those waste are well documented, and countless incidents show how dangerous it is to the people and the environment.
The question remains, why did the Americans and Australians push Malaysia to allow the likes of Lynas to operate at the cost of the lives and future of everyday Malaysians? And more importantly, why was it allowed to proceed in the first place?
Recently, it was reported that a tiny radioactive capsule measuring 6mm by 8mm, smaller than a 10-sen coin, went missing in remote Western Australia. According to reports, the missing capsule is a 19-gigabecquerel caesium 137 ceramic source, described as emitting a large radiation dose, the equivalent of receiving 10 X-rays in an hour!
In Arizona, US, a crash involving a commercial truck led to officials closing down portions of the highway due to a hazardous spill of liquid nitric acid, a colourless liquid with an acrid odor.
If left unchecked, Lynas could potentially produce and locally dispose of tonnes of toxic and radioactive waste that affects lives, livelihoods, the environment, and the health of future generations.
The government must ensure that there is complete transparency, public feedback, and consultations in any further decisions that will affect the lives of ordinary Malaysians, as Malaysia has a poor track record in managing rare earth pollution and radioactive waste.
Remember Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) owned by Mitsubishi Chemicals in Bukit Merah, Perak? Until this very day, Malaysian authorities refused to acknowledge that the radioactive waste was responsible for the sudden escalation of health problems among the residents.
Lynas’ radioactive waste is about 60 times more compared to the ARE. Despite Lynas’ public proclamation of “zero harm” commitment, it has reneged on many of its commitments and claims in its original plant blueprints.
One of the most contentious issues with Lynas is its radioactive waste contaminated with thorium (Th-232), uranium (U-238) radionuclides, toxic heavy metals including lead, chromium, and nickel as well as various rare earth residues in its radioactive waste stream.
Exposure to this cocktail of toxic elements over time increases the risk of developing cancer and other serious health problems, posing serious risks to workers at the LAMP and surrounding communities in the long term.
In industrial waste, they are sources of harmful ionising radiation that can cause genetic mutations, and hence must be isolated from the biosphere. All of these toxic elements can be leached, mobilised and concentrated; and bioaccumulated in our environment and in living cells over time.
The Lynas plant is located close to fishing communities and coastal resorts. The local community is rightly worried that the toxic and hazardous waste will, over time, contaminate a large area beyond the vicinity of the plant.
There are serious concerns that the fishing grounds could be contaminated, potentially ending the local fishery industry and the tourism trade.
READ MORE: LETTER | Lynas Malaysia concerned by false statements
Role of civil society
Civil societies in Malaysia should work together with the government to monitor Lynas and ensure the strictest compliance with the conditions as well as form independent panels to identify and assess any impact on the environment.
In the event Lynas fails to comply and adhere to the conditions, then the government must fulfill its promise and revoke all of its operating licence.
Failing which, are civil societies prepared to take to the streets to demand the closure of the plant? Will there be a Himpunan Hijau 3.0, whose predecessors ignited the fight against Lynas?
Malaysia should not feel sorry about losing investments if Lynas is associated with low safety standards and is seen as posing a danger to the very future of the country.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.