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What’s wrong with a rare earth plant, here?

THE rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang is arguably now the hottest environmental issue in Peninsular Malaysia. And both the Malaysian government and Lynas Corp, the company that wants to set up the refinery in Pahang, are struggling to convince an increasingly skeptical Malaysian public that the rare earth refinery is safe.

On 20 March 2012, the Dewan Rakyat set up a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to soothe concerns about public health and safety arising from the radioactive waste that will be produced by the rare earth refinery. But Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have boycotted the PSC while Lynas opponents, Himpunan Hijau, have decried the PSC as a public relations exercise. In a related development, on 20 March 2012, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ordered the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to explain what Lynas can do with the Temporary Operating License that it granted the Australian company on 30 Jan 2012.

Himpunan Hijau (© Gan Pei Ling)

Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally (© Gan Pei Ling)

As tempers rise over the issue, the debate may just boil down to an emotive one where fear and anger cloud reasonable and measured discussion and action about a public interest issue. Is it really such a terrifying thing to set up a rare earth refinery in Malaysia? And if it’s not, what could the government have done better to handle the public’s fear over exposure to radiation? And how can anti-Lynas groups remain true to public interest?

Safe if properly managed

Che Rosli Che Mat (source: parlimen.gov.my)

Che Rosli Che Mat (source: parlimen.gov.my)

Regardless of whether or not they are familiar with environmental issues, most PR politicians have happily jumped on the growing anti-Lynas bandwagon except PAS lawmaker Dr Che Rosli Che Mat. The nuclear scientist and Hulu Langat parliamentarian says that a rare earth refinery can be safe as long as it is properly monitored.

Indeed, anti-Lynas groups claim that the plant will pollute the Kuantan coast and have warned that the refining process is toxic. But really the most contentious point about Lynas is its waste management plan and if the company can assure the public it has a fail-safe plan, can we still justify opposition to the plant?

The Lynas refinery is located in Gebeng, an industrial zone. Bearing in mind that most industrial zones such as Port Klang and Pasir Gudang are situated near the sea, I don’t see why Lynas shouldn’t be allowed to do the same as long as it treats its wastewater before releasing it.

Nevertheless, the government should have anticipated high public concerns over the plant’s safety and its effect on public health from the painful episodes of the Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak. It should have publicised the project before approving the refinery’s construction in 2008 and held public briefings to inform the surrounding communities about the plant. The government should have actively disseminated information instead of only releasing it when the public sought it.

In addition, it was also premature for the Pahang government to approve construction without first finding a suitable location for Lynas to store its low-level radioactive waste. Now works on the RM700 million plant are near complete but public opposition is growing by the day. And Lynas is fast becoming a powerful election issue that is likely to affect the Barisan Nasional’s performance.

To the government’s credit, it did invite experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the Lynas refinery in June 2011. It also set up the PSC but all these measures have come too late to dispel the refinery opponents’ deep distrust of the authorities.

Viewing the damage at Unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (© G Webb | IAEA)

Viewing the damage at Unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (© G Webb | IAEA)

Why not in Malaysia?

From using social media, and organising forums and protests relentlessly, to travelling to Australia to lobby foreign lawmakers, the awareness anti-Lynas groups have generated locally and internationally is phenomenal.

The Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally on 26 Feb 2012 in Kuantan attracted thousands of participants. The organisers have threatened to hold a larger protest to pressure the government to revoke Lynas’s temporary operating license.

I admire their efforts to hold the government and a corporation accountable. Hence, I willingly attended the 26 Feb 2012 rally. But I’m afraid I don’t see eye-to-eye with the organisers’ aim to scrap the project entirely.

I agree that Lynas should not be allowed to operate until a permanent waste disposal site is found and the company sufficiently addresses the construction flaws alleged by former contractors. And that’s as far as I would go.

This product contains rare earths (© Gan Pei Ling)

Picture of a phone with the caption "This product contains rare earth elements" (© Gan Pei Ling)

Let’s face it. Rare earth elements are increasingly being used in our consumer products including electronic screens, disk drives, MP3 players and hybrid cars. We need refineries to process the ore in order to manufacture these goods.

So far, the world has left the dirty job of refining rare earths to China. But what does it say about us if we oppose the Gebeng refinery but continue to buy and hence, sustain demand for, the end-products?

Compared to the Chinese, I think Malaysians are in a much better position to scrutinise the government and corporations. Some may argue that Australia is a much more advanced democracy with more stringent environmental regulations. But why can’t we pressure our own government to live up to the same, if not better, standards?

And while the refinery may only create a few hundred jobs for locals near Gebeng, downstream manufacturing companies would be able to source the rare earths directly from Pahang. Is that not an economic benefit to Malaysia?

Trust and credibility

From my observation, much of the opposition against Lynas is based on an irrational fear over radiation pollution from the low-level radioactive waste of thorium and uranium rather than informed opinions on the issue. And fear can be a powerful thing and hence, useful and easy to manipulate.

Some Lynas opponents have capitalised on this fear to gain support. For example, by telling a forum I attended last year that radiation knows no boundaries and that if there is a radiation leak in Gebeng, even people in Kuala Lumpur can be affected.

But where are the facts and context? How much radiation would the low-level radioactive waste from the Lynas plant generate? And how does it compare to the radiation we’re already exposed to in our daily life?

According to some experts, even the fear over the radiation at Fukushima, Japan is overblown. And it is that same fear that is being stoked in Gebeng. For certain, there are risks involved in any industrial activity, be it refining rare earths, processing aluminum or manufacturing fertilisers. The question is, how large are those risks to public health and aren’t there steps Lynas can be compelled to take to minimise them?

If we are to solve this impasse between the government, Lynas and the opponents of the project, all sides including the anti-Lynas groups, must be transparent. That means putting forward arguments that are reasonable, accurate and in-context. It also means not resorting to propaganda just because your opponent is doing that, too.


Gan Pei Ling thinks cultivating uninformed masses gives the government even more justification to act like a patronising Big Brother. She cautions against supporting any cause before learning the facts.

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60 Responses to “What’s wrong with a rare earth plant, here?”

  1. JinHou says:

    Emotive issue? Hardly. Please refer to these articles and judge for yourself if the anti-Lynas people are cuckoo:

    http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/03/21/lets-de-politicise-the-lynas-issue/

    http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/192924

    If you have cancer, would you ask Dr Che Rosli, a nuclear scientist, or would you go to your doctor?

    The MMA has voiced their objections to the Lynas plant, as has the Bar Council. Are you saying that they are driven by irrational fear?

    “But what does it say about us if we oppose the Gebeng refinery but continue to buy and hence, sustain demand for, the end-products?”
    Your insinuation that anti-Lynas people are hypocritical is awful. I presume that like everyone else, you probably eat chicken too. How about if we move the pasar to your house?

    “But why can’t we pressure our own government to live up to the same, if not better, standards?”
    Are you joking? Have you heard about how the roof of the newly constructed stadium in Terengganu collapsed? Do you even know how the so-called “public consultation” on the Radioactive Waste Management Plan was conducted? Anti-Lynas activists have resorted to hand-copying the entire 300-page document due to severe restrictions on circulation.

    If you want to call the anti-Lynas people loony, why don’t you answer the questions raised in the above articles first. If you can’t, then perhaps you should dig deeper into the facts before you belittle the intelligence of the rakyat to think for themselves.

    • Pei Ling says:

      Hi Jin Hou,

      Please note I wrote “some Lynas opponents”. I didn’t accuse all anti-Lynas folks of fear-mongering. And didn’t I express my admiration for the dedicated activists in raising public awareness on the issue to a phenomenal level in the same article? I’ve friends among the organisers of Himpunan Hijau too. =)

      I just think the anti-Lynas movement has grown so large in such a short time that there are many supporters who’ve jumped on the bandwagon without thoroughly understanding the issue. It’s not wrong. People are free to support any cause they deem fit. But I think if the movement wants to advance the debate and convince more fence-sitters, it needs to move beyond the “Lynas is dangerous and evil, we must kick it out of the country” rhetoric. That’s all.

      • chiong says:

        Pei Ling,

        Isn’t such “I didn’t accuse all anti-Lynas folks of fear-mongering” a tad disingenuous?

        And the basis of your pro-Lynas stance is the “fear-mongering, irrational anti-lynas folks”?

        That is certainly very rational!

        • Ng Ai Soo says:

          Chiong,

          Pei Ling may personally be pro- or anti- the issue(s) but the article tries to discuss WITHOUT taking sides… which is what is rational about it. Rather than propaganda, name-calling, setting up “straw-men” or spread falsehoods, the article tries to get at the facts regarding the issue. What is it that your letter tries to achieve?

          Ng Ai Soo

    • TNT says:

      “If you have cancer, would you ask Dr Che Rosli, a nuclear scientist, or would you go to your doctor? The MMA has voiced their objections to the Lynas plant, as has the Bar Council.”

      These sentences are oxymoronic. What do lawyers know about radiation and cancer?

  2. Seriously? says:

    Your article justifies allowing it based on one assumption, that we are able to compel our government to uphold the same environmental standards of Australia.

    History and the chronology of the Lynas events tell us that the environmental impact was never in the minds of our politicians. I shudder to think that we should use this opportunity to see if the rakyat is willful enough to move the government. What if we fail?

    You don’t learn to play catch by throwing a grenade around.

    Answering why the Australian government did not approve the building of the plant in its own country will show that radiation-induced illness is not a complete science. While the science of it is unclear, people take extraordinary steps to avoid radiation of any sort.

    • Pei Ling says:

      I would agree with you that Lynas probably picked Malaysia because it thought it could bypass the public consultation process, on top of receiving a 12-year tax break. Its failure to present an acceptable permanent waste management plan till now further demonstrates its “operate first, deal with waste later” mindset.

      But I think anti-Lynas groups have done a fabulous job so far to remind the government and Lynas that no, you can’t bypass us. You need to consult us about this rare earth refinery you’re building.

      If we can’t have faith in the people to hold the government and corporation accountable in a democracy, who else can we put our faith in?

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        @ Pei Ling

        Well there you go. Maybe that´s the problem, i.e. we don´t have faith in our Malaysian government. [...]

      • Seriously? says:

        I agree to move forward is to have the people “make” (for a lack of a better word) the government uphold its promise and be accountable, both in this case as well as democracy in the general sense.

        And I would agree with you that this may just be what we need for a revolution, where people start to realise they need to play an active role and not simply leave politics to the politicians.

        Let’s just hope change comes soon and that it’s not too late.

    • azo says:

      Hi Seriously?

      “People take extraordinary steps to avoid radiation of any sort.” That is a very innocent statement as though you are not aware that in today’s world most of the people are being radiated by all sorts of things that they use and even by what they eat! Name it: from bananas to other things – tv, handphones, computers, kitchenware, even fertilizers and animal feed. All come with radiation and yet people, including you, I suppose, are using it without complaint!

      Just think about it.

  3. wizview says:

    The writer advocates consultation between the “for” and the “against” parties to sort out the issues in a rational manner. Against the backdrop of numerous other scandals affecting the government/country, there is the grave issue of no trust in the government. And there has not been any proactive attempt by Lynas and the government to engage its citizens or those who would be affected by the plant.

    Both Lynas and the government are overly defensive (not transparent), blaming everyvbody and the sun except themselves – the telling symptoms of somebody who wants to hide something This is the root cause of a possible disaster or upcoming tragedy.

  4. Lam Jet Fong says:

    Stop being so irresponsible. How much [did] BN pay you?

    • How much did the BN pay us to think and ask critical questions not just of government but also of advocacy groups? That’s a really good question :)

      If the BN were paying us, do you think The Nut Graph would still be operating as a weekly from home where all our journalists and editors have to hold other jobs in order to keep writing?

      And how does your question answer the questions that have been raised in Gan Pei Ling’s column? You definitely have the right to disagree with her. And saying that she was paid by the BN to ask critical questions does not in any way respond to her arguments in a convincing way. All you are doing is insinuating. Simply put, you’re name-calling and by name-calling you expect your argument to hold sway over hers? Name-calling is the easiest trick in the book. Kids use it in school yards and clearly, some adults are not above it either.

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        She wasn´t really asking questions, was she? She made conclusions which were in fact judgements of those who reject the location of LAMP in Malaysia. Now, there´s nothing wrong with that, but she didn´t help herself by critically understanding that the undercurrent of the “irrational fear” she spoke of is actually distrust of the Malaysian Government and how the whole LAMP thing was conducted. Of course we fear radiation, duh, but that doesn´t stop us from using our cellphones day in, day out. What we fear are things that creep up on us. By the time anything was actually said about LAMP to the public, the plant was already more than half way built!

      • Lainie Yeoh says:

        If the BN is paying us, can we all get raises please? And an office.

  5. seet ping says:

    We are not against rare earth processing but against the plant being in Malaysia. This plant should be located in a country that has a responsible government and transparent system, stringent law and regulations enforcement, and monitoring process and good track record in pollution control.

    Look at the backyards of our industries currently.Our authorities can’t even handle the visible pollutants, ie. the hazardous liquid discharges and gas emissions into the environment. Can we trust them to control radioactive pollutants that will last billions of years? One mistake, one disaster, and generations will suffer.

    Fukushima is an example of how a few so-called experts have stood by their state-of-the-art creations, guaranteed that nothing bad will happen, that it is SAFE. See what has happened. How can we put the lives of our future generations in the hands of a few so-called experts? And how could a project that could cause such massive irreversible destruction to the environment and well-being of the people be approved in three weeks and without a DEIA?

    When faced with such strong objections from the people, a responsible government who has nothing to hide would have immediately halted the project, revoked all licences and carried out a thorough review. A DEIA should have been immediately commissioned! But after a year of campaigning to the extent of yelling at the top of our voices, how come all our concerns, questions, requests for independent scientific data, etc. have not been answered?

    We asked about internal radiation, which both Lynas and the government have totally avoided answering. We asked why “12 years tax-free” when they should have been slapped with a premium. We asked how it makes economic sense to ship hundreds of tonnes of raw materials thousands of miles to our country. We asked why should we accept the dumping of radioactive waste materials amounting to three football fields, five storeys high per year.

    The people of Malaysia do not have to take all this unnecessary and unacceptable risk and live in anxiety throughout our lives.

    We advise the author, Pei Ling, to be more responsible and carry out proper research before embarking on writing an article. Writing without proper understanding and accurate information, particularly on such a critical issue as Lynas, may mislead the community and adversely impact the lives of millions of people for billions of years.

    • Nr Ai Soo says:

      Seet Ping,

      I am glad you have written under what seems to be your real name… that is extremely brave of you considering what was written. Such courage will, I am sure, be rewarded by some kind of improvement.

      You point out that rare earth processing is fine in the appropriate location, with a list to identify which one it should be. But you unkindly leave us guessing where this rare earth processing “nirvana” exists? It cannot be China; that was considered by Lynas, who had turned it down for some reason. Is it Australia? But they have a higher cancer rate than Ukraine… so perhaps Oz will refuse. So where could it be?

      By the same token, you imply that if only we in Malaysia could do those things to control rare earth processing, then we can have this extremely lucrative opportunity to outbid the other rare earth suppliers, who by the way consist mainly of China and may well like it to remain so. “We are not good enough” is the actual reason you give to “stop Lynas”… pity that is not on the placards: “Save Malaysia from our own stupid backwardness”.

      You do know that our coal-fired power stations produce about five tonnes of uranium and 12 tonnes of thorium in the ash yearly, and there are more than 300,000 tonnes of toxic ash per year in a 1,000MW plant. Take Jimah, 15km south of Sepang town and 20km from Port Dickson roughly, a 1,400MW coal power station with all the approvals and DEIA in place, operating since 2009. They sell some of that ash to a cement manufacturer, Acegreencemt, in the hope that “recycling” is the better way.

      Now Jimah seeks to find a home for the rest of its waste ash. How many football fields is that? We are building two new 1,000MW coal-fired power stations on the peninsula. Any thoughts on the football fields we have to give up for this? We have been recycling and disposing of huge amounts radioactive coal ash containing thorium for ages now, to say nothing of the radon gas up the chimneys! What waste will Lynas cause in comparison?

      • Ng Ai Soo says:

        (Continued)

        Fukushima is not Lynas, it is completely different; you mention it just to monger fear. The inventory of radioactive material is quite different: for example, thorium is not there at all, and the radioactivity of the waste at Fukushima is much higher since it is part of an operation to fission uranium for energy production.

        In this vein, you decry experts when you yourself rely on a few so-called experts spouting their visions through yourself. Are your [opinions] better, somehow? The DEIA for the coal plant above has allowed them to send that horrid toxic ash into our “green cement”, and where do you think the cement goes? Do us some good and compare that with Lynas!

        Throw a tantrum by “yelling at the top of our voices” and you expect adult treatment… you want “independent scientific data” from your own so-called experts to support your spin on this? Is the IAEA not independent and expert enough for you? It smacks of political objection here. What exactly did you ask them about internal radiation [...] Did you ask “Am I radioactive?”, or “Do I already breathe in or eat or drink radioactivity?” and “What difference will Lynas make to this?”

        It makes economic sense because, among other things, we offer them a tax holiday and we know how to “recycle” or otherwise dispose of radioactive ash waste. The people of Malaysia certainly do not have to take this unnecessary and unacceptable fear, uncertainty and doubt-mongering from you. Your last paragraph is so condescending and silly that my comment on it will surely be edited out. Suffice it to say that you are the one badly in need of proper advice and should be made to read research papers like “Evidence for formation of DNA repair centers and dose-response nonlinearity in human cells” at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1117849108, several times.

        • Kong Kek Kuat says:

          @ Ng Ai Soo

          And yet when UMNO throws a tantrum, MCA and Gerakan are treated like step-children.

          • Ng Ai Soo says:

            Whatever do you mean?! Are you saying the issue is political? Or emotional? I am trying to deal factually… so I do not know what to say to you! Perhaps saying nothing is best.

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Ng Ai Soo

            That was me taking pot shots at UMNO and BN. Nothing to do with LAMP. BUT, now that you´ve mentioned it, yes, I think the government turned it into a political issue. Instead of engaging Malaysians, the government chose to treat Malaysians as stupid: “Oh! This opposition to LAMP is because of the Opposition! It can´t be because Malaysians are thinking citizens, and that they do not trust us! By right, Malaysians don´t care about what we do. Anyway, they should be buying every word we say like in the days of the great Mahathir!”

        • Kong Kek Kuat says:

          @ Ng Ai Soo

          “It makes economic sense because, among other things, we offer them a tax holiday and we know how to “recycle” or otherwise dispose of radioactive ash waste.”

          Lynas´s first choice destination was actually China, not Malaysia. It was some legal issues that made Lynas look for other destinations, NOT economic ones. Since the government needs mo’ money, I assume that there won´t be any legal issue for Lynas Corp here in Malaysia. Even an Australian living here in Malaysia can see it.

          And what does “radioactive ash waste” have to do with the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, again? Perhaps you are confused about the LAMP and a coal-fired power station?

          • Ng Ai Soo says:

            Well, I cannot say whether your legal reasoning is applicable here without any references.

            But as far as the waste is concerned, both Lynas and coal-fired power stations produce Thorium waste in thousands of tons per year. The power station waste additionally has Uranium and toxic substances. See a picture of Jimah power station on their web-site and guess where the waste is kept.

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @Ng Ai Soo

            And there I was for the past few days, thinking that you are some government/Lynas Corp orderly dispatched to bid its duty. Surely, if you don´t know about Lynas Corp´s issue with Chinese laws on ore ownership, then you are a good Samaritan. But that is not to say that I have personal knowledge of the legal issues between the Chinese and Lynas.

            Apparently, even a poor country like Namibia did not grant a thorium storage permit to Great Western. Fear or not, there is a thin line between viewing thorium as an asset and viewing it as a liability. China, and almost all countries in the world, still view thorium as a liability on the whole. But since our Malaysian government has been storing thoria from the Mitsubishi A.R.E. with a view of using it as an asset in the future, I won´t be surprised that our greedy gomen´s initial intention was to retain the waste produced by LAMP. Quietly, of course. We should be glad that our gomen is actually thinking ahead of time when we will be depleted of our black gold.

            In any case, assuming that there are no legal issues between Lynas and the Chinese, do you actually think that Malaysia can compete with China in attracting Lynas? If only it was as simple as tax holidays, then we would have been the top destination for FDIs. And if we are that good in recycling radioactive ash wastes, then we should be specialising in recycling all the world´s nuclear wastes since fly-ash is more radioactive than nuclear wastes — we would be rich and famous as a country!

            Anyway, it´s funny how you unashamedly ask me for references when you have spewed so much with no references to your supposedly scientific “facts”. Your reply to Seet Ping above appears to be an attempt to confuse and mislead the readers. Sure, coal-fired power plants produce tons of very toxic and radioactive this and that. The issue here is the danger level of the sum of the waste produced each year. So, total waste produced by all coal-fired power plants in Malaysia vs. total waste produced by LAMP, which one is more radioactive?

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        @ Nr Ai Soo

        See, you are just not helpful at all [...] all you have said are about this and that producing thorium and uranium… I, too, can tell you that our fingers are dirtier than the wet tiled floors of abattoirs, that red bricks produce radiation, etc.

        Maybe you could help Lynas explain the following to the public:

        1.) What by-products and waste is the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant going to produce each year in Malaysia?

        2.) What is the quantity of these by-products and waste produced from LAMP in comparison with those examples you gave (such as coal-fired power stations)?

        3.) Exactly how is LAMP going to manage these by-products and waste (I assume it will be ThOH in concrete silos)?

        • Ng Ai Soo says:

          Please read http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/pdf/lynas-report2011.pdf and download the RE-report from our own http://akademisains.gov.my/download/rareearth/ for your edification. Hope that is helpful.

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Ng Ai Soo

            [...] you continue to [...] [cite] the IAEA report on the Lynas Project.

            That report is merely a report on the technical review of the construction phase of LAMP by the IAEA, and has nothing to offer as far as the really simple questions I posted above. Apart from that, that IAEA report is so general that it is as good as telling your kids, “Now you be a good boy in school, ok?”, notwithstanding the fact that LAMP may be no different from all other RE plants in the world.

            On the other hand, although less than satisfactory for those Chem. 101 and science students, the ASM-NPC report only serves to alienate the already-alienated general public from the government and Lynas Corp. 78 pages full of selling, if you ask me.

            Maybe Lynas Corp should answer those questions themselves, instead of delegating it to a good Samaritan. Do it the proper way, instead of posting kids´ Q&A on Lynas´s Facebook.

      • chiong says:

        Coal-fired power plant started in an era where we have very little inkling of what is in the coal. No one took the trouble to find out. Much of the information on the thorium and uranium content of coal were discovered recently and with it a troubling correlation with low sperm count, leukemia, cancer etc of those who had the misfortune of living in the vicinity of such plants.

        This is the same with the oil and gas industry. In Texas where it was first discovered, much thorium, radium and uranium came up with the oil that was pumped out of the ground. Again correlation of leukemia persisted even until 30km away. For those areas downwind to such oil fields, the distance was even greater.

        Scales in pipes used in oil extraction had shown very high radioactivity.

        What are we to do with such new information and discovery where COMPETENT scientific professionals had once said were safe? Do we continue to propagate it? In the case of a coal-fired power plant we could abandon it but for those that are still operational, what choice do they have? Are new scrubbers put in place? Is it prudent to put the coal ash in cement? Studies done on gypsum board using low-radioactive waste had shown a marked increase in cancer incidences for those areas that had used it. Is it the same with our cement industry? Are we unknowingly spreading carcinogen into the general population?

        For the oil and gas industry, new procedures, regulations and the latest sophisticated gadgets were put in place to minimise its effect on the population.

        Can such industries, which were based on learned ignorance from the past, be the basis of accepting the Lynas rare earth refinery?

        • Ng Ai Soo says:

          We are building two more coal-fired power stations… can your reasoning be applied to that?

          • Soo Jin Hou says:

            Ng Ai Soo [...] Yes, because Lynas is in our backward, we are fighting tooth and nail against it. Yes, we didn’t know enough about coal-fired power plants to campaign against it.

            But now, instead of assisting the people who will be most affected by Lynas, you are condemning them for not fighting against something that was not an immediate threat to them. If you are so concerned about coal-fired power plants, why don’t you start a campaign against it? Now that we are more educated in this area, we will gladly support your campaign.

            Your attitude shows your true colours. [You...] like to bitch about other people’s inaction rather than take on the fight yourself.

          • Ng Ai Soo says:

            Jin Hou,

            It is strange that you (“we” in your reply) don’t know enough about coal-fired power plants because it was only last year that the 300 MWe coal-fired power station proposed for Lahad Datu was cancelled due to activist objections and despite the current electrical power shortfalls there. But now you and yours know the facts, but insist that the Lynas campaign gives you no time to address an EXISTING issue the scale of which exceeds Lynas and which is located at the more populated West coast of the peninsula. I mean, the emission of more that 20,000 tons of fly ash into the air every year. Therefore it cannot be pollution, toxic or radiological, that motivates you…it is just Lynas. Why?

            I am not against the coal-fired power stations… they are the cheapest (and dirtiest) source of electricity we have… why go for more expensive options? Just as I am not against Lynas operated correctly as per their plan. But you are against Lynas, and if this is because of an “immediate threat” to the public as you say, then what about actual existing threats of equal or greater magnitude and which affect more people? Unless it is all a show just for political reasons.

            Now perhaps you may understand that what I am against, that is, what I am “bitching” about as you say, is IGNORANCE, sheer HYPOCRISY and FEAR-MONGERING. It is not inaction that I am on about, it is stupid political rhetoric. I do not want a harangue against Lynas, I want a champion for the cleanest environment that we can afford… my true colours, simply put so you do not have to second-guess. So, fight on, but do it comprehensively and fairly!

            Ng Ai Soo

            PS: This reply may appear above your remark…the comment system here being such!

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Ng Ai Soo

            The fact that you are always emphasising that there is absolutely nothing but “stupid” politics involved in the people who reject LAMP already means that you are fighting a losing battle to convince whoever you are trying to convince. [...]

          • chiong says:

            My question to you was whether a past learned ignorance can be used as a legitimate justification for Lynas to be built in Kuantan? You avoided answering my question.

            As to your question whether my reasoning can be applied to the two coal-fired power stations to be built, isn’t the answer obvious ?

            If it is proven to be harmful, why use it? The folks around the area in which the power station is to be built should be informed and educated on the danger of such a plant. If I do not have the capacity to carry out such a campaign over there, does that make me a hypocrite?

            As for your off-the-cuff pigeon-holing of all who seem to disagree with you, let me clue you on a bit of who I am. I am a retiree. I was born in Kuantan, grew up in this beautiful town, spent my working years overseas and have now returned back to my home town of birth. I have no interests in politics. I am just an ordinary person concerned for my health and that of my fellow neighbours. My background is in physics, so I am not speaking out of school. So you can rule out ignorance and fear-mongering here.

            How do you classify someone like me who is genuinely concerned on the impact of Lynas on the community here in Kuantan ?

  6. David says:

    Quoted from the above comment: “You don’t learn to play catch by throwing a grenade around”.

    That’s a really apt statement.

    Given our government’s recent track record on construction projects (stadium, court house, highways, palaces, dams, etc.), do we even dare to allow them to try their hand on a project that may potentially endanger generations of living creatures? Not to mention long-term damage to the environment.

  7. Nr Ai Soo says:

    Dear Gan,

    My congratulations on your article which seems clear, balanced and progressive in asking people to learn the facts first before jumping to conclusions. I agree, also, that good, independent vigilance is necessary.

    With reference to Soo Jin Hou’s reply, please note that you have not called the anti-Lynas people “loony” [...] You wrote that they preyed on “irrational fears”; in other words, you were calling them fear-mongers, an accusation I feel is not without merit.

    Soo’s first reference is to an article he himself wrote. In it he makes much of ECRR and one Chris Busby, the founder of ECRR. Chris Busby is fraught with controversy. Long ago, much was made of his approach (see http://iopscience.iop.org/0952-4746/24/4/E02/pdf/jr44e1.pdf, http://www.cerrie.org/ and http://www.comare.org.uk) and more recently, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/21/christopher-busby-radiation-pills-fukushima and http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/nov/22/christopher-busby-nuclear-green-party. Busby is very political and even ran for office. Please advise all that protection has to be sought for exposure to Busby’s emissions – if nothing else, from his reported profanity.

    Soo’s next reference is to one Chan Chee Khoon who writes: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/on-thorium-and-lynas-chan-chee-khoon. All sorts of unnecessary fears, uncertainties and doubts are raised. Even the science there is suspect. Read the comments, if you can spare a few moments.

    I am sorry that you have to face such a tirade from Soo, but as you point out, such is the quality of our public discourse. I hope that you have success in improving this for us and, on the basis of this article, have every reason to believe that you will. Carry on the good work, I look forward to your next piece.

    Ng Ai Soo

    • Pei Ling says:

      Thank you Ng. =)

    • JinHou says:

      “I am sorry that you have to face such a tirade from Soo, but as you point out, such is the quality of our public discourse.”

      Yeah… I suppose the quality of your work is top notch. Just because you find Chris Busby objectionable, you completely disregarded the opinions of the many other scientists and doctors who lent their name to the ECRR report.

      • Ng Ai Soo says:

        Soo,

        Sarcasm becomes you! The Monbiot references I gave refer to Busby selling radiation pills to Japan which could be bought there cheaper, if I read correctly… and Monbiot found that so objectionable he had to write about it. Sadly, I agree with Monbiot and, further to that, I find ignorant fear-mongers loathsome, you know, like clever snake oil merchants.

        Your correct response to Gan should have been: “Sorry for my tirade… I’ll try to do better next time.”

        Ng Ai Soo

    • chiong says:

      Science is blind and any scientists worth his [or her] salt would readily agree and admit that what they have understood is tentative.

      What Chan Chee Khoon has raised was never addressed by those who claimed that the Lynas plant is safe. Skeptical doubts and uncertainties are part and parcel of any scientific inquiry.

      All data provided to date by Lynas are theoretical calculations and there isn’t an iota of empirical data to support the contention that the plant is safe.

      Given such a scenario, can any scientist make a definite pronouncement that the plant is safe?

      • Ng Ai Soo says:

        Chiong,

        Given your scenario, can any scientist make a definite pronouncement that our air is safe? What about our water, roads, hospitals, buses, anything at all? You are saying that scientists cannot make any safety studies since there are always doubts and uncertainties…well, this is a classic example of spreading uncertainty and doubt unnecessarily. Science is the light, the candle in the dark, with which we try to push back what Carl Sagan calls “The Demon-haunted World”. “Denialism” is how irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet and threatens our lives according to Michael Specter.

        So your scientist Chan is right and other scientists have only a tentative understanding with which to make pronouncements. Or is Chan, a scientist with tentative understanding, also unable to say anything according to your reasoning? Should we rely on you then to give us the answers? Who else? The experts at IAEA? Are you able to vet their prognostications? Or have you just left us rudderless… with no candle to see ahead?

        Ng Ai Soo

        • Chiong says:

          My!my what a bluster. Dropping names, I see. Carl Sagan eh ? [...]

          Perhaps I should reiterate my point.

          All data provided by Lynas is theoretical. There isn’t a model or proof of concept – which should have been done in Australia some where in Mt Weld. That wasn’t done. One of the points I had raised elsewhere has never been addressed, i.e. when the ore has been ball-milled to below 250 mesh it becomes colloidal and can go out into the Balok River without having to be dissolved. When the radioactive waste dries out, this colloidal dust could spread far and wide.

          Any scientists worth his salt would first acknowledge that they do not know everything there is to know. In this way there is openness. With openness the light of understanding can penetrate.

          You have taken the view that the IAEA experts were right. But their “rightness” is conditional and they themselves said so. One sticking point still to be addressed is the radioactive waste disposal. The IAEA experts were not privy to any plan.

          Given this situation are you not, at least, concern for your fellow Malaysians living in Kuantan ?

  8. KW Mak says:

    @ Gan Pei Ling

    I would like to offer a slightly different perspective with an analogy.

    A property developer (Lynas) declares intention to build several luxurious villas (rare earth refinery) on a hill slope, triggering protests from people living at the bottom of the hill.

    The protest, which come from laypersons, would be about the fear of land slides (radiation poisoning). The reassurance from the developer is that there exists modern technology to ensure such a disaster does not occur. When residents ask for detailed plans however, the government says that the public just needs to trust them to do their jobs and that everything will be okay.

    The public would then proceed to cite cases of why they cannot trust the government, like the Highland Towers (Asian Rare Earth Plant).

    In the case of Lynas, I do believe you got it right by saying it is an issue of fear, and much of it may seem irrational because the people who are expressing the fear do not know how to articulate it.

    However, the protesters are not denying there exists technology or methods that could possibly ensure the safety of the people. What the protesters do not say clearly is that they are not sure if the government would ensure that the technology/methodology will be applied since there are scant details about the refinery. All there is are speculative reports and assurances, which no doubt fuels the fear.

    Therefore, the real focus on the Lynas issue is faith and trust in our government. That, to me, is the biggest stumbling block. How can you not be afraid when you cannot trust the custodians and gatekeepers?

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @KW Mak

      You got it spot on… well… as far as my take on the whole “fear” thing in the Lynas case.

      At the end of the day, there is nothing much that we would trust our current Government with/at. Tiap-tiap hari, berpuluh-puluh articles, letters, comments, tweets, etc., are written in one way or another about our government. One of the latest readable ones is this. Depending on which side you´re on, all these writing are about how much distrust we have for our government (if you call a spade, a spade), or all these writers have a “perception” problem (if you admire Chua Soi Lek or have any hope of getting a contract from Umno).

      At the end of another day, you just can´t be bothered when people write something like this article above.

    • Pei Ling says:

      Hi Mak, your analogy reminds me of the Bukit Gasing folks opposing further development at the hill. =)

      Yes ultimately it boils down to trust. If we could trust our government to monitor and regulate Lynas (or developers) effectively, I think few would have opposed the project.

      But personally, I also wish engineers and scientists can design smarter products without using materials that will leave behind radioactive waste which will outlive the products themselves.

    • MRazwan says:

      Gan & Ng,

      perhaps you did not catch the drift.

      Most of the people who opposed Lynas, DO NOT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.
      And the reply from them and Lynas so far have reinforced the perception that they are untrustworthy! The Lynas issue is one of so many wrong things in this country that make many people stop and say, they will not tolerate all this non-sense anymore.

      • toni says:

        The article gives too much benefit of the doubt to Lynas and the approving authorities (ie gomen).

        Why is Lynas afraid to have a direct and frank dialogue, and the gomen so wishy-washy ? Why is the MB so threatening?

        There appears to be a severe lack of trust and confidence in the project.

        So, the ultimate question(s) ~ What is Lynas trying to hide? And why is the gomen so supportive of Lynas? Why not set up factory in Australia?

  9. See Fun says:

    Hey, I think we have forgotten another thing. Even if I leave next door to the fire brigade, I refuse to play with fire, it is not a matter of trusting the fire brigade – cannot ah?

    Even if the gomen and Lynas are trustworthy, we still do not want to take the chance. Again, cannot ah? Yes, I may be a coward, yet again, cannot ah?

    • KW Mak says:

      @See Fun

      Your response is no different from Muslims who are afraid of Christians converting their members without any solid evidence.

      “Even if the Christians are trustworthy, we still do not want to take the chance.”

      Or, to turn it around, if anyone wanted to run a propaganda campaign in support of Lynas, they only need to excerpt statements from people like yourself to show that the protesters don’t argue with facts but emotion.

      You are precisely the kind of person Gan Pei Ling is cautioning about in her article.

      Regards.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @See Fun

      Fair enough. But LAMP is not “playing with fire”. LAMP is like you using the gas stove to control the fire and use it for your benefit. Think of LAMP as a cigarette lighter. If you see an adult use a lighter, you don´t even think about it. But when you see a child with a lighter, you worry.

  10. vivatan says:

    KKK,

    I have faith in our government, my problem is that I am not in the inner circle!! Can’t excuse myself to [be] overseas at [a] time of unrest!!!

    To rob or to be robbed?? If there is only choice! Make your pick!!

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ vivatan

      Join MCA, or Gerakan, or any of the component parties. You might get lucky and get “inside”. But at the very least, you´ll get some of the bread crumbs from UMNO. The downside is that you´ll have to sing the song about how non-Malays also benefit from the offerings, much like a grateful pet.

  11. KK says:

    Eh..actually just consider this and you will know whether LAMP is safe. If the plant is safe, it would have been most logical to have it in Australia at a site near to the mining site. Imagine the amount that will be saved from transportation, logistics and handling.

  12. ck says:

    Am I late in this discussion?

    I’m a ardent opponent of Lynas in Gebeng since I knew about it on a flight back to Malaysia early last year.

    I [would] just like to deal with the technical risks aspects of the issues that Lynas in Gebeng raises:

    1) Safe if properly managed

    There is no such thing as safe “if probably managed”, especially when casual professionals are involved. Mistakes happen due to various reasons. The only safe bet is to minimise the casualties involved.

    In the case of the Gebeng site, that minimisation of casualties is ignored. Just imagine an industrial disaster like the Union Carbide incident in Bhopal that killed thousands of Indians within hours. It happened with such a large scale of mortalities because the site was situated near an industrial zone within a crowded township. From the subsequent Bhopal investigations, [it was found that] the plant was properly managed; yet an accident happened. Tell that to the next-of-kin of the deceased!

    No known major REO (rare earth ore) refinery has been built near populated areas, except in China. Many people, both those pro and con Lynas, do not realise that besides radioactive wastes, highly toxic chemicals are also used and generated during the production of the REE (rare earth elements).

    Just on this count, ALL proponents of Lynas in Gebeng are playing with people’s lives.

    2) Waste treatment

    There are two issues here – toxic chemical waste treatment and radioactive waste storage.

    There is a minimum of information on the treatment of toxic chemical wastes in any of Lynas’ Gebeng proposal and write-ups.

    This risk could have been overshadowed by the radioactive waste component of the issue involved. But it’s equally life-threatening to the surrounding large population and harms the environment. Sufficient attention must be given to it!

    Some of my knowledgeable colleagues mentioned that toxic chemicals kill instantly. But it’s more humane than producing a future generation of mutants due to the low level radioactive risk! This is a cruel joke but it bears all the irony of the facts.

    Lynas keeps emphasising that the REO, lanthanide from Mt Weld, is of very low natural radioactivity. Furthermore, it claims that the residual wastes generated by the refinery process are also of low radioactivity. This is factually correct.

    But the main concern about radioactive wastes in Lynas Gebeng is not the radioactivity level of the materials used/generated. The main issue is the radioactive level of the radioactive wastes. This level increases as the concentration of the material increases, and the danger to health increases exponentially due to the simple fact that radioactive reaction is a positive feedback chain reaction! This is not of the chain reaction level of a nuclear reactor, but nevertheless it happens and grows exponentially. From a minute none lethal level, very soon it would reach critical level due to the concentration of the materials involved.

    Thus, in a processing plant like Lynas in Gebeng, there is no such thing as low-level radioactive wastes in a refinery. As more REE is been refined, more radioactive wastes will be generated. Lynas lies that it is neither extracting nor concentrating the thorium, so the low level of radiation remains the same – from raw material through transport, processing and waste. Common sense, as the REE has been refined, that as the concentration of the thorium increases, so does the radioactive level growth.

    Lynas is playing semantics with radioactivity and radioactive level. Thus only the term RADIATION is used.

    This is also one of the reasons that in the original license granted to Lynas by Western Australia to built the plant in Mt Weld to refine REO – all wastes must be returned and stored within the original site on a batch basis, ie returned as it is been produced. No accumulation is allowed. Moreover, any waste with radioactivity of more than 2.3Bq/g MUST be diluted down to natural levels and stored within the original mining shaft. Based on this, there is practically zero chance for Lynas to recycle any wastes for industrial materials.

    Perhaps, the Australian government treasures her citizens’ lives more than the Malaysian government does its citizens! They also don’t buy the crap idea of low-level radioactive waste and safe dilution of radioactivity for commercial recycling.

    3) “But where are the facts and context? How much radiation would the low-level radioactive waste from the Lynas plant generate? And how does it compare to the radiation we’re already exposed to in our daily life?”

    Radioactive risk is an ongoing scientific study. We just don’t know much and yet the risk is potentially real. The study has been going on since Big Boy was dropped in Hiroshima some 50 yrs ago. The data is still being gathered and confirmed. This is especially so with the so-called low level radiation exposure.

    The question we should ask is whether Malaysia should be in the forefront of this guinea-pig investigation when we only have jaguh kampong professionals, plus the third world maintenance mentality.

    We should do without Lynas in Gebeng at this stage of our industrial development. Period.

    The painful episodes of the Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak, bear witness to this past plunder due to our politicians’ greed and the rakyat’s ignorance. It shouldn’t happened again.

  13. Victor says:

    Pei Ling,

    You are right, most people just do not know the facts before jumping in and supporting the anti-Lynas movement. But how do you expect most people to understand:

    1. What rare earths are and that they are not rare at all.
    2. How or what rare earths are used for.
    3. What radioactivity actually is or even what low-level radioactivity is. What is safe and what is not.
    4. What thorium hydroxide is and where it sits on the periodic table, if they know what the periodic table is.
    5. That the rare earth ore mined from Mt Veld contains low percentage of thorium hydroxide when comprehending percentages is already a problem.
    6. And that one of the elements in the group of rare earths is Promethium which is radioactive.
    7. The process and safety features and standards implemented when rare earth is extracted.

    What most people do understand is:
    1. If the extraction is so lucrative, why is 95% of rare earth extraction done in China? If it is so lucrative then why give a 12-year tax holiday?
    2. Wouldn’t it be cheaper if you did it in your backyard?
    3. Asian Rare Earth was ordered to close down by the high court of Malaysia because it was detrimental to the health of the population of Bukit Merah. We have had a bad experience, ok! Why risk it again.
    4. They can have easy access to pictures of those suffering from leukemia due to ARE. Doesn’t looking at those pictures drive fear into your bones?
    5. Like you said, the Malaysian government is acting like a big brother and was not upfront with the rakyat on the setting up of the plant.
    6. Cancer is something that is feared.

    Now if you think this is irrational fear, I do not know what is rational fear.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ Victor

      Just a Chemistry 101 note: “Thorium hydroxide” does not sit on the periodic table. I think what you mean is “thorium”.

      And “thorium hydroxide” is an insignificant compound, if at all it is found, in REEs. It is more commonly produced in the refining of REs in large quantities. But that, too, depends on the methods employed to refine the REs.

  14. chern says:

    Pei Ling, kudos for having the courage and resolve to publish your thoughts.

    Protesting the rare earth plant and its expected consequences here in our backyard is all very well. Why in our backyard and not yours, right? Why here and not somewhere else, anywhere else for that matter?

    However, rare earth, like coal, gas and crude oil, is a necessary ingredient on which we are ever more dependent to sustain our way of life. People will still queue for the next iPhone when it eventually arrives even though their iPhone 4s are still perfectly functional. Demand won’t stop simply because the raw materials needed to make the devices are hazardous to obtain.

    But hey, if not here, then that plant has got to go somewhere else. If it doesn’t leak radiation here, it’s going to leak radiation in some other country. We need to think about our world over and above our nation because at the end of the day, everyone is somehow going to be responsible for those consequences (should they emerge) since we all played a part in fueling the mining of rare earths after all.

    If there is no demand, there would be no need for a plant in the first place. Like diamonds. If people just got it out of their heads that diamonds are a must for engagements or gala dinners, then we might have saved millions in Sierra Leone. If our lives didn’t revolve around oil, the Deepwater Horizon spill might never have happened.

    My point is, protesting against Lynas shouldn’t be the end of it. Lynas should be pressured into speeding up research on how rare earth can be processed safely. It is a large listed company, so corporate social responsibility is in its interest. Meanwhile, investments should be made to seek alternatives to using rare earth. It could be the start of a long and expensive process but it would be a step in the right direction. Apple, IMHO, should kick-start that process with some of the money it’s still NOT paying back to shareholders in larger dividends.

    • Pei Ling says:

      Thanks chern! Finally someone has spelled out what I’ve left unsaid in the article due to word limit! =)

    • stewoolf says:

      The semi-conductor industry is named after semi-conducting materials such as rare earth. Not using rare earth means the end of semi-conductor industry, thus the electronic industry. Imagine this, using the “tube” technology before the birth of the semi-conductor in the 1950′s, the iPad would be the size of Titanic, the ship!!

      CSR?? How about deducting $200 from your monthly salary for social responsibility? Or ask you to invest $2,000 in developing technology with potential return of $1,000,000 in 20 years? (That’s the return from Apple stock.) Which option is more attune to human nature or self-interest?

  15. chern says:

    PS. This reader is not a shareholder of Apple and has never been.

  16. Sai Lim says:

    I just think the anti-Lynas movement has grown so large in such a short time that there are many supporters who’ve jumped on the bandwagon without thoroughly understanding the issue. It’s not wrong. People are free to support any cause they deem fit. But I think if the movement wants to advance the debate and convince more fence-sitters, it needs to move beyond the “Lynas is dangerous and evil, we must kick it out of the country” rhetoric. That’s all.


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