By Arveent Kathirtchelvan
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:
- 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.”
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.
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