On 14 May, the Minister for the International Trade and Industry (MITI), Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohammed announced the independent panel to review the proposed Lynas rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, Pahang.
Since the review involves environmental and public health and radiation safety issues, concerning a hazardous facility, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the MITI.
We are thus puzzled why MITI was charged with announcing the review panel members, bearing in mind that a preliminary environmental impact assessment was submitted to the Department of Environment (DoE) in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 2008.
The Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are very concerned with the Pahang State Government's decision to go ahead with the proposed rare earth plant in Gebeng despite the fact that this refinery is a disaster waiting to happen.
In 2007, SAM was invited by the Terengganu Government to give a briefing on the dangers of rare earth and SAM’s experience dealing with the exposure of radioactive waste in Bukit Merah, Perak. Following this, the project was rejected by the Terengganu Government.
In the last 3 years, CAP and SAM have objected vehemently to the proposed rare earth plant due to the potential public health and environmental impacts of radioactive and hazardous waste that would be generated.
Eight men -- a welder, a shoemaker, a general worker, a pensioner, a barber, a tractor driver, a crane-operator and a cancer victim who was to die shortly -- sued Asian Rare Earth in 1985 on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other residents of Bukit Merah and the environs in Perak. They wanted to shut down this rare earth plant in their village near Ipoh because its radioactive waste was endangering their lives.
The Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) Director Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan has said that the AELB was seeking the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to select experts to study the safety of the Lynas rare earth plant project in Gebeng.
Firstly the IAEA was set up to promote the use of nuclear energy and to act as a policeman to check whether a country is conducting a covert nuclear weapons programme. In fact the IAEA helps developing countries in their plans to build nuclear power plants. As such it lends support to the nuclear industry and its expansion world wide.
Given its mandate it would be fanciful to imagine that the IAEA will be in a position to put together an international panel of ‘independent experts’ to carry out a conclusive study.