Lynas must get out of our backyard

The Malaysian Bar continues to view with grave concern the developments with respect to the controversial construction of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) at Gebeng Industrial Estate, Kuantan, Pahang. We note that the project is still very much shrouded in secrecy and characterised by a serious lack of transparency. This is outrageous, given that the plant’s by-product of radioactive wastes would have a major adverse impact, directly or indirectly, on human health and the environment.

The level of engagement and consultation with people who will be most affected by the project has been extremely limited and woefully inadequate. It is highly arrogant and irresponsible that neither Nick Curtis, Chairman of Lynas Corporation, nor any senior representative of the company, has been on the ground and continuously engaging with the community. A series of 10 discussion sessions had been planned, but Lynas Corporation never directly attended the consultations, which were cancelled after only two sessions.

We are informed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) report had a very narrow scope. It did not make any assessment of LAMP’s impact, particularly on the environment, the employees and the community. The report is thus of extremely limited utility, does not address the concerns of the community and offers no assurance to the
community on critical issues implicating the safety of the project.

At about the same time that the IAEA report was published, it was reported in the New York Times on 29 June 2011 that there are serious construction and engineering flaws in the storage facilities for the radioactive waste products resulting from the processing of the rare earth at LAMP. According to the report, the engineers “felt a professional duty to voice their safety concerns , the problems they detail include structural cracks, air pockets and leaks in many of the concrete shells for 70 containment tanks, some of which are larger than double-decker buses”. Futhermore, “[t]hese issues have the potential to cause the plant’s critical failure in operation, more critically the toxic, corrosive and radioactive nature of the materials being leached in these tanks, should they leak, will most definitely create a contamination issue”.

These shortcomings constitute a recipe for disaster. There has also been no transparency or disclosure as to the plan for management and disposal of thorium, the radioactive waste generated by the production of rare earth. The radioactive
waste management plan must be made public and subject to public scrutiny and consultation. Lynas Corporation must ultimately provide for the removal and transportation of all the radioactive products back to Australia.

Moreover, thorium has an inconceivably long half-life of over 14 billion years, ie half the atoms in any sample of thorium will decay in that amount of time. Will Lynas Corporation be in existence for as long, to be responsible for the impact of thorium? In this regard, Lynas Corporation, at the very minimum, should provide an environmental bond and obtain
insurance coverage for the protection of the community.

Save for the creation of merely 300 high-risk jobs, the setting up of LAMP obstensibly generates no visible or tangible benefits to the community or the country. Yet, the company has reportedly been granted 12 years of tax exemption for its operations.

We have already witnessed how radioactive wastes have adversely affected the community in and around Bukit Merah, Perak. We have now been left with one of Asia’s largest radioactive clean-up sites there. It is plain that we do not want to experience the recurrence of such a tragedy in our nation ever again.

The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the Government to take all necessary steps to halt LAMP, and to protect its people and environment.

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