Expert warns of radiation risk from revival of tin mining

A disused dredger in Batu Gajah, Perak, once used for tin mining, now a tourist attraction. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A radiation expert has warned that the government’s plan to revive tin mining raises a bigger concern than allowing Lynas Malaysia to continue processing rare earths.

Dr Looi Hoong Wah, a fellow of the Malaysian Academy of Medicine and a specialist in radiology and radiotherapy, told FMT the monazite found in tin tailings was nearly 50 times more radioactive than waste from the Lynas factory in Pahang.

He said the radioactivity from monazite was 284 becquerels per gramme, whereas the waste from Lynas gave out six becquerels per gramme, about the same level of radioactivity from phosphorus fertilisers used in agriculture.

In May, Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar announced that the Cabinet had approved a plan to revive tin mining to take advantage of the high price the commodity is fetching in today’s market.

The price could reach as high as US$20,000 per tonne, Jayakumar said.

He added that his ministry had already identified areas with huge tin deposits.

Looi commented on the proposal to find an old mine to use as the site for a permanent disposal facility (PDF) for residue from the Lynas plant.

He said practically all the disused mines in Malaysia were heavily contaminated with heavy metals like lead, arsenic, chromium, nickel, copper, thorium and uranium and it would be best for Lynas to commission a study on the selected site and its surroundings before deciding to use it.

“It should then publish the result,” he said. “Critics then cannot blame the company or the government for contaminating the areas around the future PDF site.”

A news report on Aug 3 said Lynas had deposited US$42.2 million in cash and cash-backed bonds with the Malaysian government to fund long-term residue management.