Stop-work order must be issued to Lynas immediately

Wong Tack


MP SPEAKS | Finally, with a new government running the country after May 9, and a highly capable minister in charge of the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry, Lynas can no longer lie to the people. 

All of the wrongdoings of the rare earth processing plant are now fully exposed.

The Lynas plant is situated on reclaimed swampland with groundwater as close as 1m below the surface. This area, which receives an annual rainfall of 2,860mm, is prone to flooding. The effect is particularly intense during the Northeast monsoon season. 

This site has been severely flooded twice already in the past, and with climate change, the future risks can be worse. 

There have been serious violations of laws, regulations, as well as licensing terms and conditions over the last six years. 

The people are now demanding to know who facilitated the following violations: 

  • Our laws/ licence conditions say the storage area for radioactive waste must be roofed and not located in areas prone to natural disasters. 451,564 metric tonnes of radioactive waste (water leached purification, or WLP) were piled up in the open in Lynas’ flood-prone backyard. 
  • Our laws say only a maximum of 20 metric tonnes of scheduled wastes can be stored onsite. There are now 1.113 million metric tonnes piled up in the open in Lynas’ backyard.
  • Our laws say scheduled wastes can be stored onsite for six months maximum. 1.113 million metric tonnes have been piled up in the open in Lynas’ backyard for the past six years. 
  • Our law says all scheduled wastes must be kept in fully covered containers and isolated from the biosphere. Lynas piled them up in the open in their backyard, completely exposed to harsh weather conditions.

Lynas radioactive waste must be removed from Malaysia. The approval of Lynas’ operating licence was based on the company's commitment to ship all their wastes out of the country. 

The cabinet endorsed a joint ministerial directive clearly stating that Lynas must ship out all their waste, including all products made from it, failing which their operating licence will immediately be revoked.

 It does not even make any economic sense. A large piece of land will be lost forever. Lynas radioactive waste contains thorium, which has a half-life of 14 billion years. In other words, Lynas’ waste will remain in the environment forever.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed, in reference to Bukit Merah (Mitsubishi’s joint-venture Asian Rare Earth’sradioactive wastes), previously said this:

“Eventually, we agreed to bury this substance (radioactive wastes) in an area which was one sq km large. We had to bury it under thick cement to prevent the radiation from affecting people. 

"Malaysia lost one sq km of land as the area was still not safe, which also led to losses in terms of areas meant for development. 

"The radiation effects triggered fear among the community, we don't want a repeat of this,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times in September.

The amount of Lynas’ radioactive waste generated in six years is already about 40 times more than the lifetime amount of Bukit Merah. The lifespan of the Lynas plant is 20 years. How many square kilometers more of precious land do we have to sacrifice to bury Lynas’ waste? 

Malaysia is a small country. Our land is productive and has high economic and ecological value. We must treasure every square inch of it. 

In Bukit Merah’s case, the long-term management and maintenance of their radioactive waste ‘tomb’ has been handed over to the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and subsequently the state government. 

If we allow Lynas to build a permanent disposal facility, our children for generations to come will have to pay for the management and maintenance of Lynas’ radioactive dump for 14 billion years. 

It’s unfair, immoral and irresponsible to subject future generations to such unnecessary health risks and economic burden. 

There should be no double standards. In Australia, Lynas would be required to send the waste back to where it came from, i.e., Mount Weld, for long-term storage immediately after it is produced. No accumulation of waste at the refinery is allowed. 

Malaysian lives are not cheaper than Australian lives. Lynas must send their waste back to Australia. 

The Earth Charter, which is endorsed by Unesco, states that pollution of any part of the environment must be prevented, and no build-up of radioactive, toxic, or other hazardous substances can be allowed. 

The Earth Charter initiative was championed by our very own former ambassador Razali Ismail, who has also served as president of the UN General Assembly. 

The people of Malaysia will never allow our country to be the tong sampah (waste bin) for Lynas’ radioactive waste, which will destroy a large piece of our precious land forever. 

In view of all these irregularities and violations, we call upon the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change minister to issue an immediate stop-work order against Lynas. 

WONG TACK is the MP for Bentong.

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

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