The Lynas Toxics in Malaysia

Between 1952 and 1957, the British conjured the Australian government to cooperate in a nuclear weapons test program at the MontebelloI slands, off Western Australia, and at Emu and Maralinga in the south central desert area of Australia. As nuclear guinea pigs, military servicemen and civilians were used in these tests.

Servicemen based at Maralinga were ordered to assemble 7.2 km from Ground Zero. They would listen, with their hands over their eyes, for five minutes while a countdown played through a loudspeaker. Officers would order them to wait for two seconds after the countdown finished before turning around to look at the explosion.

Within 24 hours of each test, these guinea pigs were ordered to drive towing vehicles into the radioactive site where they would retrieve vehicles parked to test the effects of the explosions.

Sometimes they wore white radiation-protection suits, with breathing apparatus. On other occasions they were ordered just to wear khakis. They then washed the vehicles with high-pressure hoses, removing large quantities of contaminated soil. They gave blood samples each time they entered and left the hot zone, or finished washing and dismantling the vehicles. Their bodies and clothing were also swept with Geiger counters to measure their radiation level.

More than 8,000 servicemen and 8,000 civilians were assigned to the program, and reports also mentioned stillborn babies were used in these nuclear experiments. This was an area where both governments knew Aborigines lived, where later, these natives were to suffer serious health consequences as a result of the “Black Mist” from the radiation. Even now successive governments have refused to knowledge their faults or to compensate these victims in general.

Today, an Australian company thought they could do similar venture in other’s backyard, to conjure another country to process toxic materials, but with a profit motive this time. Now, in a far away land, in the remote region along the sparely populated coast of Kuantan, sits a newly built chemical plant.

The state of Terengganu, which was Lynas’s first choice, had rejected the Australian company’s proposal in 2007. But another state seems like an easy target for the world’s companies to walk over. The Kuantan and the federal governments need money and the company needs a remote place to dump its toxic waste.

Lynas Corporation, a new mining, refining, and recycling of rare earths would soon have serious environmental consequences in Malaysia. The particular hazard is a mildly radioactive slurry tailings which is produced from the processing of thorium and uranium in rare earth element ores.

The fallout from such ore refinery means the end results are particularly prone to releasing toxic wastes into the environment, the grassland and eventually into the general water supply system.

But Malaysia had been victimised some years earlier. The Bukit Merah mine in Perak earlier had been the focus of a huge cleanup in the years leading up to 2011. Residents blamed a rare earth refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases within five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years with no leukemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims died, and cows that ate the grass around the area had all died.

Victims of radioactive waste

The Bukit Merah case is little known even elsewhere in Malaysia, and virtually unknown in the West, because Mitsubishi Chemical, the main operating concern, quietly agreed to fix the problem even without a legal order to do so. Local protesters had contacted Japanese environmentalists and politicians, who in turn helped persuade the image-conscious company to close the refinery in 1992 and subsequently spend an estimated $100 million to clean up the site.

One of Mitsubishi’s contractors for the cleanup is GeoSyntec, an Atlanta-based firm. That cleanup process by GeoSyntec involved a hilltop entombment of 11,000 truckloads of radioactively contaminated material, the removal of “more than 80,000 steel barrels of radioactive waste to the hilltop repository.” But with heavy rainfall in this equatorial region, these radioactive wastes are bound to ultimately spread underground and, finally, contaminate Perak’s drinking water.

In May 2011, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, widespread protests took place in Kuantan over the Lynas refinery and radioactive waste from it. “The ore to be processed has very low levels of thorium,” Lynas’ chief executive, Nicholas Curtis, said, “There is absolutely no risk to public health.”

If Nicholas Curtis didn’t lie through his teeth, he would surely have built the refinery somewhere near Mount Weld in Western Australia, where their main mining fields for rare earth elements and other concentrates are located. The high cost of transporting the raw materials to Malaysia would be cut and the price of polished products would be far higher.

T. Jayabalan, a doctor who says he has been monitoring and treating patients affected by the Mitsubishi plant, “is wary of Lynas’s assurances. The argument that low levels of thorium in the ore make it safer doesn’t make sense,” he says, “because radiation exposure is cumulative.”

Lynas is on budget and on schedule to start producing 2012, but Malaysians are protesting this toxic issue before a soon-coming election. The topic is heating up inMalaysiabut Lynas, motivated by greed, just haven’t has any conscience nor moral.

~ by Joel Huan on March 19, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: