Thursday, 2 June 2011

Some want it, some don’t

Brave New World (The Star)
2 June 2011

Note: The parts in red were removed by The Star


There is an international environmental law called the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal. Yes, I know, the title alone is enough to put anyone to sleep. I have had generations of students do just that.

Anyway, please bear with me. This international law, which Malaysia is party to, basically forbids the illegal export of hazardous wastes to countries that do not want them or do not have the ability to dispose of them safely. It came about because it is actually cheaper for companies to hire a ship, pack it full of hazardous wastes and then dump it in some third world country half way across the planet.

A nasty practice to be sure and one that got pretty out of hand in the eighties, particularly in African countries. Hence this international law came about and Malaysia very rightly decided to be part of this regime. After all why should we take other people’s dangerous waste products?

It is a bit odd therefore that this Lynas rare earth plant was even considered in the first place. The waste product of any rare earth manufacturing is radioactive. It causes ill health and untold misery. It’s happened before in Perak and now it looks set to happen again in Pahang.

The Asian Rare Earth company in Bukit Merah was Japanese, the one in Lynas in Australian. I wonder why they didn’t just have the plant in the wide open spaces of Australia. Is it because it is cheaper to have it here, or perhaps because the Aussies have more stringent laws with regard to radioactive wastes and therefore it makes more sense to come to a country where such laws do not reach such high standards.

Whatever the reason, it sure looks like a version of dumping to me. Instead of creating the waste in their own home country and then dumping it here, they just build the plant right here along with their waste products. I do not blame the people of Gebeng to be very concerned because this is their health and the future of their children at stake here. Their opposition to the plant is totally understandable. Naturally the government and the proponents of the plant will say that it is all safe and fine and dandy.

Speaking of the proponents of this plant a bunch of them disrupted a peaceful protest against the plant recently in Kuantan. The anti anti-plant group was reported to number in the scores and they not only yelled and screamed but also apparently resorted to a spot of physicality. They didn’t like the anti plant people because it seems that they were scaring away tourists.

Isn’t it nice to have such tourism minded people in Kuantan. I didn’t even know that there were tourists in Kuantan. Furthermore one of them was said to have stated that “this is Malay land”. This got me confused, is it alright to have Malay land irradiated? Does the glow of radiation enhance the Malay-ness of the place? Very odd indeed.

There was a review expert panel set up and they have been having meetings with various concerned groups. They seem to be saying that the plant is safe. However, opponents of the plant say that the data obtained in coming to this conclusion came from the plant proponent themselves and therefore is unreliable. An independent third party should be called in to make the necessary investigations and data gathering.

This is a reasonable request, and one which actually mirrors the decision of the High Court in the ARE case in Perak. The judge in that case held that analysis of the data coming from the ARE plant sources could be questioned as the neutrality of said data would doubtlessly be, well, questionable.

I am certain that those who are opposed to this plant will continue in their struggle and I hope that there will be a full and open disclosure of all the facts so that an informed decision will be made. It still seem strange to me however that a government which has put its name to an international law which condemns hazardous wastes would even consider such a plant on its shores.