By Arveent Kathirtchelvan

Lynas Revisited

Another day, another twist in the Lynas saga. This time, though, a positive turn as Tun Mahathir conceded recently in Tokyo that Lynas will be given a new operating license. I was jubilant, Liberasi was jubilant, as our friends in Lynas were finally vindicated. Moreover, when YB Xavier Jeyakumar added that there is no groundwater heavy metal pollution under the Lynas plant, it confirmed even further that Lynas was a conscientious company. I’m glad.

However, if I know YBs Wong Tack, Fuziah Salleh and Yeo Bee Yin, a desperate clawing to retain their images as environmentalists is forthcoming. Already, YBM Yeo has clarified Tun M’s speech, saying she has just gotten approval to go talk to Australian officials about Lynas’s wastes, doubling down on the need for the company to remove them overseas. Unfortunately, the best performing minister in the cabinet chooses to constantly mislead the Malaysian public on Lynas and their waste management agreement.

Quoting my past self, “Going back to the [Executive Committee of the Operational Assessment for Lynas (LAMP)’s] Executive Report, the residue management for lamp has been in line with MIDA requirements that is stated in the licensing terms that is:

  1. i) recycling the waste; or
  2. 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.”

If Lynas wastes can’t be recycled, they are not automatically obligated to remove it to Australia, they are obligated to permanently dispose them in Malaysia, as highlighted by the ExCo report quoted above and recommendations from the Department of Environment. In fact, as I have highlighted previously, the siting for permanent disposal is already being done for Water Leach Purification (WLP) waste.

As much as YB Wong Tack wants to throw tantrums against Lynas, as much as YB Fuziah cries crocodile tears supposedly worrying about her constituents, it is obvious now that these are cheap publicity stunts. Lynas has proven time and again that it is highly compliant with Malaysian laws and, above that, does not pollute the environment. Moreover, it is of high value and can drive Malaysian industries in rare earth if we have enough sense to use them in that manner. As I have alluded to before, and will be expanded upon in an upcoming entry on the Proactive Reindustrialisation series in Liberasi, we can be a global force in permanent magnet production and, eventually, electric vehicles. Unfortunately, the situation is currently still unclear on whether our government will move in this direction.

Hypocrisy

Let’s take another approach. Let us assume that YBs Wong Tack, Fuziah Salleh and Yeo Bee Yin really are concerned sincerely for the environment. Let us further narrow down the scope to just radiation and the release of radioactive material to the environment. I humbly ask, what about petroleum sludge? To the uninitiated, extracting and refining petroleum into its different constituents necessarily produces multiple waste streams. Since crude oil contains a mixture of various compounds and metals, these streams can be highly toxic in nature.

One such stream is liquid waste sludge. According to the IAEA, petroleum waste sludge contains Lead-210 (Pb-210), Radium-226 (Ra-226) and Actinium-228 (Ac-228), all of which are radioactive. The activities these metals contribute to the sludge are, respectively, 5.148 Bq/g, 59 Bq/g and 28 Bq/g. Comparatively, Lynas WLP waste clocks in at 6.2 Bq/g, Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) at 0.47 Bq/g and Neutralisation Underflow (NUF) at 0.25 Bq/g. Unlike at the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, where only ore processing occurs, Malaysia undertakes extraction of petroleum as well as refining.

When I visited the LAMP a few weeks ago, what intrigued me was the many petroleum-based chemical plants present (a helpful list can be found here). Yet all of these are ignored. Why? If the politicians concerned in this article are such green activists, so passionate to save the environment, where is their conviction against petroleum sludge? I haven’t even started on radioactive fly ash from coal-fired power plants (from which we produce almost half of our electricity) which emits 100 times more radiation to the environment compared to a nuclear power plant. Where is the Wong Tack-Fuziah Salleh-Yeo Bee Yin coalition on these?

Or do they realise that there is such a thing as proper waste management strategies to deal with radioactive residue? What do we call this if not hypocrisy? I dare say the only reason these politicians even talk about Lynas in a derogatory manner is political ambition. The rakyat are less informed of the rare earth industry so they paint it in a bad light to make themselves seem environmentally conscious. Instead of leading the rakyat into being more educated, these politicians treat us like simpletons to be manipulated for their own gains. We are simply a means to their ends.

The Rakyat’s Response

Which is why it deeply disturbs me that normal Malaysians from the affluent side of the economic divide are single-mindedly backing whatever the three present. I read the comments section too, the captions when they share articles and TK Chua’s letters, all of which sadden me due to the wholesale acceptance of the untruths presented by these politicians.

I must advise you to please do your own research. Read the reports on Lynas by the Executive Committee, the Department of Environment, the Atomic Energy Licensing board and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Read up on other industries producing Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) and how they are managed. Assess for yourselves whether these are effective through cross referencing with other scientific papers. If you would like to really learn, gather a few friends and plan a road trip to Lynas to see for yourselves what they are (like I did).

The only thing standing between us and the truth is our own ignorance. As much as you love them, politicians are politicians, they are prone to biasness to preserve their political security. They have and possibly will use our own ignorance for their own gain. Either that or they are not perfect, there are gaps in their knowledge. In science, nothing matters but the facts of a case. And the facts prove one thing beyond all. Lynas is safe. It is also of high value. YBs Wong Tack, Fuziah Salleh and Yeo Bee Yin are wrong. That’s just an unfortunate circumstance of the case.

Featured image from Mole.my

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2 thoughts on “Our Environmentalists Should Not be Broken Mouthpieces

  1. Yes, it is possible that the Lynas issue was and is being used as a political football by politicians against Najib, UMNO and the BN before GE14, whenthey were still in power.
    For instance, many of the findings presented in the Report on Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) Operations Evaluation Executive Committee of September 2018 date from before GE14, when Barisan Nasional was still the federal government, and to many pro-Pakatan people, anything which the BN government or its agencies published were not to be trusted, or even lies. Even Pakatan politicians who are scientists were denounced as “sellouts”, “turncoats”, etc for saying the Lynas is safe, based upon scientific evidence.
    It’s like some anti-BN supporters, including a business and economics journalist I know and some others, who say that the Department of Statistics is not telling the truth when it states that Malaysia’s inflation rate is 2.5%.
    What they do not know or understand is that the inflation rate published by the Department of Statistics is based upon the average price of 200 goods and services across all of Malaysia, from the smallest village to the largest urban conurbation.
    So yes, the inflation rate in the Klang Valley was about two times higher than the national average stated by the Department of statistics and was estimated by those in the unit trust industry to be around 5.5% in 2013, whilst in s small rural village it will be well below the 2.5% average.
    In 2012, a plate of char koay teow from a hawker stall in the Petaling Jaya cost around RM5.50, whilst it cost me RM3.50 in Ipoh, where rents are cheaper, so the overall cost of living and the inflation rate depending on where one lives due to a variety of real world factors, not to say that an inflation rate of 5.5% is good.
    Of course, politicians, when in opposition will want to paint the grimmest picture they can and when they are in power, some find it hard to go back upon themselves.
    As for sincerity over their concern for the environment, just look at what has been allowed by Penang’s DAP-led Pakatan state governments since they captured Penang in March 2008.
    When they were in opposition before GE14, they would have been there amongst the protestors against these projects but now they are ramming them through against the protestors’ objections.
    Just take a look at Penang-based environmentalist Anil Netto’s articles such as this recent one
    Ecological nightmare haunts Penang
    https://anilnetto.com/environmentclimate-change/penangs-fisheries-and-fisherfolk-in-jeopardy/
    The scarring of the hills of Penang
    https://anilnetto.com/economy/development-issues/the-scarring-of-the-hills-of-penang/
    Monster highway approved: Welcome to the Parking Lot of the Orient
    https://anilnetto.com/economy/development-issues/monster-highway-approved-welcome-to-penang-car-paradise/
    However, we do not know whether or not the some tens of thousands of signatures against these developments and projects are representative of the views of most of the 1.767 million population of Penang island.
    From some of the comments I’ve read on Anil’s website, some claim that the majority of Penang lang are OK with them, though they could come round to oppose them later when it’s too late.
    Likewise, how representative of the views of the population of Gebeng, are the protestors against Lynas?
    I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone else really knows, unless a scientific poll or a referendum is held on the issue.
    And, if a referendum is held and the majority are against Lynas, then it should be stopped, according to the democratic will of the people,of Gebeng, whether right or wrong, rational or irrational, scientific or unscientific.
    It may interest you to know, that I did not sign the petition against Lynas at a table at a PSM fundraising dinner several years ago because I was not convinced that it was dangerous as made out to be.
    However, even now, I’m not convinced that it is all that safe either, especially that the storage facilities will be diligently maintained according to international standards for as long as required, which can be a very long time.
    Also, any ill-effects may not show up until several decades later, by which time it wil be too late, which I why I prefer to err on the side of caution on controversial matters like this.

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  2. Whilst this article “Yellow vests v Extinction Rebellion” may be a bit off-topic here, however it exposes the idealism and impracticality of environmentalists in the Extinction Rebellion protests in London in May 2019, compared to the burdens of a carbon tax imposed upon farmers, small business people and workers by the neo-liberal capitalist Macron government, which triggered the ongoing Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests by people who are left with no choice but to drive motor vehicles, albeit polluting, when the neo-liberal governments of France have cut public transit or not provided them adequate public transit serving their areas.
    The article also criticises the mostly privileged middle-class Extinction rebellion protestors for expecting workers to ride bicycles long distances to work.
    https://www.cpgb-ml.org/2019/05/04/news/yellow-vests-v-extinction-rebellion/
    I’ve come across quite a few extreme environmentalists who say that everyone should give up driving cars and ride bicycles instead and whilst some of the more progressive capitalist advanced western countries have provided bicycle lanes in major cities, which many residents now use, however others still drive cars and it’s impractical for environmentalists to demand that they all ride bicycles, which why such demands are not all that popular with all.
    For instance, look at the bicycle lanes along the sidewalks in Petaling Jaya New Town centre and the roads leading up to it which nobody uses, as well as the bicycle stands in the Petaling Jaya New Town centre which nobody uses.
    Obviously, it’s impractical to expect people to bicycle along the sidewalks in the daytime heat and along the roads whilst facing the risk of being knocked down in the heavy motor traffic.
    The Petaling Jaya City Council may think itself “progressive” and on par with major western cities by having these bicycle lanes which nobody uses.
    I believe that a solution to the pollution problem and carbon emissions from motor vehicles must be addressed holistically through science and technology, so residents can proverbially have their cake and eat it at the same time.
    Let’s assume the Malaysian government comes round to adopting your nuclear energy proposition and replaces all fossil fuel powered electricity generation plants with nuclear powered, hydro powered, solar and where practical – wind powered generation.
    Next the government must mandate that all motor vehicles sold in Malaysia after a certain date must be electric powered and it must also mandate that all existing petrol stations, shopping mall and office building car parks must have sections where there are fast chargers.
    At the same time, it must encourage third party service providers to construct dedicated fast-charging stations and provide tax-incentives and encourage local development of home charging stations.
    There may be exceptions where certain heavy vehicles or earth movers have no option but to be petroleum powered due to load requirements, in which case, special licenses can be issued.
    At the same time, the government must invest in building extensive networks of integrated multi-modal public transit systems in the cities and towns, comprising electricity powered inter-city trains,regional rail, MRT, LRT, monorails and electric buses serving neighbourhoods and business areas surrounding each MRT and LRT stations.
    Such radical changes may at first be disconcerting for the national petroleum company Petronas but it could re-invent itself to be a nuclear or renewable energy company.
    This way, much of the pollution from petroleum exhaust fumes and carbon emissions can be greatly reduced as petroleum powered motor vehicles gradually phase out through attrition, and who knows, Malaysia may be a shining example for the rest of the world.
    Meanwhile, the handful of extreme environmental idealists can ride bicycles to work in the hot sun.

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