Dear Yeo Bee Yin, Lynas is not the real enemy

(AFP pic)

Dear minister,

I read your reply to Lynas employees and can’t say I am not dismayed. I write this as one of the only voices in support of Lynas as your government, with specific respect to your ministry, seems unwilling to budge on any issue with regards to heavy metal processing and radiation-related activities.

As a holder of an MPhil in Advanced Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, I expected more from you as a minister especially regarding issues unpopular to the public.

Minister, I would like to refer you to the often repeated clarifications Lynas has made on the topic of waste management. It has clearly stated its commitment to undertake recycling of its waste to take advantage of the rich concentrations of highly valuable minerals present within them.

Lynas has invested a good amount of its annual profits to undertake detailed research and development. In my opinion, as the minister for energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, you should be supportive of this and even partner with Lynas to speed up its efforts, while training Malaysians on the same matter.

As you would be rightly aware, the rare earth metals processed by Lynas are imperative to many technologies, especially those that produce green energy. How can you, dear minister, antagonise a company that is imperative to producing the very solar panels and wind turbines you have championed?

But I digress. Your point was waste management; let me come back to that. Lynas has for years stated its commitment to recycle its waste, failing which it will identify and build permanent disposal sites, failing which it will extract all waste from Malaysia. This has been its commitment for so long. For you to imply only the extreme latter shows your bias against this company.

Another matter I would like to discuss lies in your own ministry’s website. I wonder, dear minister, if you have read the report of the executive committee of the operational assessment for Lynas (LAMP). In its recommendations, there is none that states immediate removal of waste from Malaysia. Granted, there are recommendations to remove waste from Malaysia if sites of permanent disposal cannot be located or approved. On environmental considerations, an environmental impact assessment and a radiological impact assessment are recommended to make sure LAMP procedures are in line with what is safe.

Moreover, on the release of a greater concentration of heavy metals into water streams, the report recommends research into where this breach of regulation comes from. Again, there is no immediate need to remove the waste.

You mentioned in your reply, dear minister, that the Lynas management is trying to stage a drama, that the usage of paid advertorials and press conferences is to paint the ministry in a bad light. Let me ask you a simple question: in a situation where the current government comprises those who are against its business, in an era where people do not understand its operations and are constantly and unfairly attacking it, what is Lynas to do? It just so happens that Lynas has the means to get its side of the story out, so it does, through whatever means possible.

I wonder where your zeal goes when considering the myriad of coal-fired power plants in Malaysia. In fact, I remember our prime minister saying we should go into Sabahan coal for energy rather than nuclear power. Where were you then? Why have you not gone to the multitude of IPPs burning tonnes of coal to produce electricity, to slap them with fines? Or are they all miraculously clean-burning? Are you unaware of the polluting ways of coal?

I don’t understand, dear minister, why you mention Lynas not keeping to its word when it is you who is trying to prematurely remove Lynas’ waste from Malaysia. No talk of recycling, no talk of looking for permanent disposal sites.

Actually, we know why. Lynas is an unpopular company, often regarded as the ultimate bogeyman.

I read as well the partial reply to your letter from the deputy president of Lynas, Mimi Afzan Afza, on your non-response to Lynas’ multiple invitations to you to come visit its site. Now, I cannot comment on whether this is true, but assuming it is, how can you judge a company without having engaged with it in the first place? Is this another attempt to undermine Barisan Nasional’s (BN) policies just to make yourselves feel better?

Enough with the silliness. Stop antagonising Lynas and work with it to improve its process, if needed. It is not rare earth metals that are our enemy, it is coal and other fossil fuels. Yet we are seeing the development of a third national car with no talk of divestment from these harmful industries.

From what I can gather, Lynas is following procedure quite well. Most of its processes and activities are not harmful and where there are problems, they can be dealt with locally. When all else fails, Lynas can and has promised to remove its waste post-haste. It is even economically of low impact, as you have rightly pointed out. So please, move on. It takes away from the great work you are otherwise doing. Thank you for your time.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan is chief coordinator of Liberasi.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.