by Arveent Kathirtchelvan
After careful consideration, I have decided against lashing out at YB Wong Tack’s article and take the route of diplomacy instead. There were parts of my previous article that were admittedly flawed due to heightened emotions but I am willing to be quieter now in reply. I apologise for my earlier brusque tone.
YB , I am saddened to see your letter laced with appeals to emotion, disregarding completely the latest report done in assessing Lynas LAMP, a report, I hasten to remind you, which is not commissioned by an independent body, rather done by the government itself. An executive report of a government with you, YB Fuziah Salleh, Minister Yeo Bee Yin and Prime Minister Tun Mahathir in it. Each of you have demonstrated no love to industries dealing with radiation and, I argue, do not understand or do not wish to understand the processes therein.
I have read your letter a few times and wish to pick it apart for fellow Malaysians. Consider it a national service. Before we begin, I urge you to keep two more tabs open in your desktop, one for your own article and one for the report of the Executive Committee of the Operational Assessment for Lynas (LAMP). Ready? Let’s get started.
Firstly, I take offense at your assertion of Lynas lying to people. You decry wrongdoing and feign indignance yet point to nothing backing up this claim. What lie does Lynas sell? Similarly, when you say Lynas has breached laws and regulations, I find that very hard to believe as this company is regularly audited by not only local agencies but also international ones such as the IAEA. But this is just a he-said, he-said up until now, let us go deeper.
YB, you have pointed out 4 violations. The first states the storage area for radioactive wastes must be roofed and not located in areas prone to natural disasters. I wonder why no recommendation to this effect exists in the abovementioned report. Moreover, 6 years of operations is not short, if your assertions of non-compliance are correct, the report must have found gross contaminations everywhere. Yet we find that in general, LAMP has complied with the Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984, Environmental Quality Act 1974, Factories and Machineries Act 1967, Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and Industrial Coordination Act 1975. One wonders where your information comes from, YB Wong, to refute these findings.
Secondly, you mention only a maximum of 20 metric tonnes of scheduled wastes can be stored onsite. This is misleading as the Environmental Quality Act 1974, Regulation 9 (6) states “A waste generator may apply to the Director General in writing to store more than 20 metric tonnes of scheduled wastes”. Of course, the application can legally be rejected but on what grounds must be made very clear.
The Executive Committee report does recommend immediate steps to ready and build a safe storage site for Lynas’s Neutralised Underflow Residue and a Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) be build for the Water Leached Purification residue (WLP) which cut a different picture to the one your government is trying to paint. These are local steps instead of forcing Lynas to remove the wastes from Malaysia. Moreover, the report also recommends R&D be continued for waste recycling, but that this be overseen by a separate Executive Committee and funded by Lynas. I would recommend the learned YB to perhaps seat himself in this committee, if created.
Thirdly, the YB is concerned about the length of the storage for scheduled wastes where our laws permit only 6 months of storage yet Lynas has been storing the waste for 6 years already. Going back to the Executive Report, the residue management for lamp has been in line with MIDA requirements that is stated in the licensing terms that is:
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 practiced dilute and disperse methodology to deal with WLP. Also, 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.
Moving on to your fourth point, you mention all scheduled waste should be stored in containers and allege that Lynas have simply dumped waste in their backyard. Actually, what you may not know is, landfills are viable technologies for waste storage. This doesn’t mean one just throws rubbish on the ground. Landfills are made with a compacted clay base and covered with a geomembrane (basically an ecoplastic) to prevent leaching of chemicals into the ground. Lynas has done this. But don’t believe me, believe your own report which again states the increase of thorium and uranium in sediments from the Balok River was very small (little leaching of these metals from the landfill was present).
You then go on to argue the cabinet endorsing a joint ministerial directive asking Lynas to ship out their wastes immediately, as if this endorsement means anything in a New Malaysia that has seen many unworthy cabinets before, without any science backing it. Your argument of thorium’s half-life being 14 billion years is laughable as it doesn’t include the radiation intensity. Current radiation levels themselves are low, with workers receiving less than 2 mSv/year, much less than the self-imposed cap of 6 mSv/year. Even the latter is a conservative limit with international standards of 20 mSv/year being the norm for safe dosage.
You then go on to bring in Bukit Merah’s Asia Rare Earth scandal to strengthen your arguments. Referring to the Executive Committee’s report, there are clear differences between Asian Rare Earth and LAMP. It is unfair to LAMP to compare them to an incident that has very little semblance to their practice. Just because Tun Mahathir said something doesn’t make it right. If you are interested, I have written 2 more articles responding to our beloved PM that can be found here and here.
You then go on to reject the permanent disposal idea, espousing on how we must cherish our land. I agree, I love my country, my people and my land very much. This is why I support the nuclear energy option for Malaysia and why I don’t see the need for Lynas to remove their wastes for now. The mined earth contains rich minerals. I’d rather give Lynas the time and support needed to research on how to utilise that earth that has been dug out rather than immobilising it and exporting it. I cherish each atom extracted to not go to waste, YB, not just the façade of protectionism. Moreover, I have already covered nuclear waste management in the latter of the abovementioned 2 articles so do have a read.
This is not to say that the report did not find some worrying statistics, especially with regards to heavy metal levels in the ground water. But even then, only a study is recommended to find out where this is coming from. No mention again of immediate waste extraction.
To close, let me introduce myself. I’m Arveent Kathirtchelvan, a recent graduate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Manchester. I am an environmentalist. When it came time for me to get a job, I decided not to take the oil and gas route because I could not reconcile the fact that it contributed to most of our problems in the world. I started out a supporter of renewable energies, but the reality is they are too minute, too intermittent and not scalable enough to take out the behemoths that are coal and fossil fuels. Through my research I found that only nuclear energy provided the way out. I hope you would someday agree.
But that is not why I am defending Lynas, dear YB. I am defending them because people like you who have power do not understand science enough to make a rational decision. I am defending Lynas because people in your government who have the necessary knowledge would rather manipulate the masses to get political mileage rather than speak the truth. I cannot stand by as ignorance and ambition pervert the very basis and beauty of science. The preservation of truth. This is a stand I take not because I have connections to or a vested interest in Lynas. It is an expression of solidarity with truth itself. Embrace it, YB, for it shall set you free. Thank you for your time as well.
Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Chief Coordinator of Liberasi
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