Shameful day for Malaysia, says MP after Lynas gets nod to continue operations

Bentong MP Wong Tack.

PETALING JAYA: Bentong MP Wong Tack, a vocal critic of the Lynas rare earths processing plant, has described today as “a day of shame” after Putrajaya allowed its licence to be renewed.

The DAP MP said as of now there were 600,000 tonnes of radioactive waste in Gebeng, Kuantan, and that it was likely to accumulate to over one million tonnes in four years.

“A shameful and sad day for Malaysia. How could we leave such radioactive waste for our future generations to manage?

“We will lose part of the land as it will be used for disposal of the radioactive waste, which will remain active for millions of years,” he told FMT.

He was responding to the decision by Putrajaya to renew Lynas Corp’s licence to operate in Pahang, ending speculation on the fate of the rare earths processing plant, which had been a subject of contention since the May 9 polls last year.

In a statement earlier today, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), which comes under the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry, said it was giving a six-month licence to Lynas based on several conditions.

Among others, it said the company must build its “cracking and leaching” facility outside Malaysia within four years of the renewal, after which it would not be allowed to produce radioactive residue exceeding one becquerel per gramme at its plant in Gebeng.

It said the company must also identify a permanent disposal facility (PDF), with written approval from the relevant state government.

Wong Tack said the decision seemed “hypocritical” as the government had rejected over 450,000 tonnes of plastic waste from developed countries but allowed the nation to be a dumping ground for radioactive waste.

“Now, the 600,000 tonnes of radioactive waste in the Gebeng backyard is sitting on a flood-prone area, which is against the standard practice.”

He said after four years, Lynas would not enjoy tax exemption and would likely close its operations and look towards operating in another country.

‘Verbal assurance not good enough’

Meanwhile, Johor DAP committee member Dr Boo Cheng Hau said the verbal assurance from the Cabinet and AELB on safety at Lynas was not good enough, warning of a repeat of the Bukit Merah contamination tragedy that affected people in the 1980s.

Noting that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad also approved the Asian Rare Earth operations in Perak in the 1980s, when he was prime minister previously, Boo said Mahathir must now reject Lynas.

“We have to admit our own shortcomings to avoid another Bukit Merah tragedy,” he told FMT, saying it was time to recognise Malaysia’s inability to deal with the disposal of radioactive waste effectively.

Cabinet ministers should also declare if they had any interests in the operation of Lynas, he said.

Boo warned that Malaysia should not be caught in the crossfire of the US-China trade war, adding that Australia was working with the US to help break China’s monopoly on rare earths production.

Malaysia should keep at arm’s length from the trade war and remain neutral politically for the good of the country, he said.

He also said Malaysia should not get involved in nuclear energy development when there was abundant solar energy and bioenergy to tap into.

“We should ensure not only Malaysia but the whole of Southeast Asia is nuclear-waste-free and we should concentrate on the development of renewable energy and sustainable industries rather than making our homeland a dumpsite for radioactive waste.”