By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Four government departments have earlier recommended that Lynas should ship back waste material produced by the refinery plant to Australia. They have a certain representativeness as four departments account for 16% of the total 25 departments.
It was reported that the Cabinet has accepted the recommendation and required Lynas to ship back all waste material back to Western Australia. It is indeed a positive development, but is it feasible or just a wishful thinking?
Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum Norman Moore told the Parliament in April last year that the Australian Government would not accept responsibility for any waste produced by Lynas. Even if the recommendation works, there is still a distance from the anti-Lynas group's demand of revoking the temporary operating licence.
The Cabinet must have a clear decision on the issue, whether to revoke the licence or keep the refinery plant. If they decide to revoke the licence, they have to study how to deal with the aftermath problems, including explaining to the international community that Malaysia does not deliberately violate the agreement. The country might also have to compensate a huge sum of money, particularly when the rare-earth plant's construction is almost complete.
If they decide to keep the plant, they should then ponder over how to ensure that the waste material will not threaten the people's health. The chemical toxicity of thorium is estimated to be little and the risk is mostly from its radioactivity. The most stable isotope of thorium is 232Th, with a half-life of 14.05 billion years. Can Lynas' permanent waste disposal facilities withstand the test of time and natural disasters?
In politics, the BN must also get prepared for attacks, particularly from political leaders of eastern Peninsula.
Since the anti-Lynas movement is in full swing in the civil society, BN leaders must think twice before making a speech. If they make a slip of the tongue, including calling it a local community issue and threatening to sell cendol at the rallies, it would only heighten the public's ill-feeling. As Himpunan Hijau 2.0 chairman Wong Tuck said, the then process of approving the investment of Lynas lacked transparency and who actually allows the plant to be built in Kuantan? Why was the environment-threatening projects approved within a week?
Even if a person wishes to keep a dog, he should first obtain his neighbours' consent. How could they give the approval so hastily? Is the scientific evidence and information provided by Lynas credible?
Environmental departments and units of many countries adopt international standards to review projects affecting the ecology. For example, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has clearly listed projects that must have an environmental permit, including mineral refinement.
The environmental impact assessment process of Hong Kong involves nine steps, including informing the public through newspaper advertisements and letting the public access to the environmental impact assessment report. Its Environmental Protection Department also adopts four kinds of law enforcement strategies, namely satellite images, measuring maps and photos, air and land monitoring and on-site inspections.
The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department has been taking such meticulous steps and we wonder how severe is the assessment procedure in Malaysia. It is understood that the Pahang Environment Department had given its approval only three weeks after Lynas submitted its environmental impact assessment report, while the radiation impact assessment procedure was completely opaque.
Should the rare-earth refinery plant be kept after the exposure of so many management weaknesses in the approval process?