KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — A Pahang MP has suggested that the state mentri besar grossly overlooked key health and safety concerns in his eagerness to safeguard the RM700 million Lynas investment there — a move she said may harm its residents in the long run.Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh said Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob should have formed an independent panel of experts instead of relying on a single federal agency to properly evaluate the risks involved before approving the plant — touted to be the biggest rare earths refinery in the world once complete — in the coastal Gebeng industrial area.
She further said the briefing Adnan received from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) was not comprehensive because the rare earths processing industry involves expertise from many sectors and also includes policy-making from several ministries — not just the ministry of science, technology and innovation.
“The Pahang MB should also ask the neighbouring Terengganu MB about the state’s stand over Lynas Corporation’s application to build the same plant in Teluk Kalung in 2007,” she said in open letter to Adnan.
Earlier this week, the mentri besar was forced to reassure a restless public over his state government’s approval for Lynas to build a plant to refine rare earths ore — which contain trace amounts of radioactive material — to be shipped in all the way from its mine in Australia.
“The people seem threatened by the construction of the plant… the opposition parties are sensationalising the issue, following radiation leaks at the Fukushima Nuclear Energy Station in Japan, which was triggered by the recent earthquake and tsunami,” he was quoted saying on Thursday by national news agency Bernama, after attending a closed-door briefing on radiation safety levels.
But Fuziah said he should question experts on why no other country in the world, apart from China, has agreed to set up rare earth refineries for the last 30 years.
According to the vocal Lynas critic, Terengganu was the first port of call for Lynas but had turned down the Australian miner four years ago after consulting environmentalists and other radiation experts.
Toxicologist Dr Jayabalan Thambyappa from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) had warned of a repeat of the Bukit Merah incident in Perak, where residents suffered birth defects and cancer after Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Chemicals operated a rare earths plant there 30 years ago.
Dr Jayabalan was among those who had treated the residents and gained first-hand experience in witnessing the harmful effects of radiation on humans.
Work on the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) in Gebeng started two years ago and it is set to power up in September.
The Australian company is a major supplier of the precious commodity that is used in many high technology industries, such as telecommunications, and is hoping to break China’s 97 per cent chokehold of the world market.
Fuziah noted a laundry list of other concerns that had yet to be addressed by the authorities, which included how Lynas would deal with the leach purification solids, the potentially hazardous by-product from the refining process that contains the radioactive thorium.
“How will it be managed and which rules will Lynas abide by when it starts operation? China standards or British or Australian?” she questioned.
The PKR vice-president urged Adnan to set up an independent body to analyse the radioactive impact on the environment as Gebeng is next to the sea, fed by Sungai Balok which runs right through the industrial zone.
She added that Gebeng was close to tourist magnet Cherating, and also had a thriving fishing industry.
She reminded him that he had a duty as MB to uphold the trust of the state’s citizens.