Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Bukit Merah Rare Earth processing plant incident

Look cool wearing yellow with guidance from Masaomi Kida from the Yellow Turban Rebels!

The police are hot on their heels for colour gangs in KL… Well bad elections are one of the atrocities committed, but let’s just not forget another equally terriffying incident that made the news a few weeks before.

The Lynas rare earth processing plant, proposed to be built in Gebeng, Pahang reeks foul of one of the worst radioactive disasters in Malaysia which is the title above “The Bukit Merah Rare Earth processing plant incident”. Yeah you read that right. It’s happening right in our own backyard, so exciting right? Turns out it was back in 1979 when the project was first mooted in Bukit Merah.

The Chronology of events, you can read it at the Consumer Association of Penang website http://www.consumer.org.my/index.php/development/environment/454-chronology-of-events-in-the-bukit-merah-asian-rare-earth-development.

In a nutshell, back in 1979 the project started, giving many locals false hopes of a better job and pay while being exposed and irradiated with dangerous radioactive waste. As the plant started operations in 1982, the people started to notice something wrong – the factory’s smoke and bad smell made them choke and cry. Their health began failing, indicated not only by frequent bouts of coughs and colds, but a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning.

Numerous experts have been called from both sides of the divide, and many found the site unsuitable, with comments from ‘unsuitable designs’, ‘not meeting international standards’ to even ‘extremely shoddy’. The villagers, together with people concerned about them, tried to stop their operations through legal grounds and marches but ended up being blocked by FRU personnels, detained under ISA and all sorts of other things. It was not until 1994 that only the plant stopped operations succumbing to public pressure from both national and international.

But the damage has been done.

Locals who worked at the plant suffered from radiation-linked mental and health problems. An example is this tragedy documented in the New York Times featuring Ms. Lai Kwan who has been taking care of her son, born with severe mental and physical disabilities. She was pregnant while working at the plant and was not fully informed of the hazards. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside.html?_r=1

The disasters takes its toll on the land. A cleanup operation is currently in progress which is projected to span 30 years and is believed to be one of the largest cleanups in the rare earth industry. So much for Malaysia Boleh.

Now the Lynas plant has only been conceived very recently as of early this year 2011. In the light of our previous incident, the project took just 2 months to be approved and now it is reported that The New York Times reported that as many as 2,500 workers are rushing to complete a US$230 million plant in Gebeng, near Kuantan, that will refine slightly radioactive ore from Australia.

What say you?

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