Serious concerns and unanswered questions over Lynas operations renewal

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) voice our serious concerns over the Pakatan Harapan government’s decision to allow Lynas to continue its operations for another six months and for its radioactive wastes to remain in the country.

This means that once again, another toxic legacy is being created for future generations to suffer, in addition to the existing hazardous radioactive wastes being stored in the Kledang Range in Perak, from the Asian Rare Earth plant.  

The government says that the Lynas decision was made following the Australian government and the Western Australian state government’s statement to Malaysia that it would not accept the Water Leach Purification (WLP) radioactive residue produced by Lynas to be sent back there.

It is obvious the Australian government considers the Lynas waste to be too toxic for it to accept.  Surely, what is an unacceptable threat to the Australian people and environment should also be considered a similar threat to people’s health and environment in Malaysia.   

Instead, by allowing Lynas to continue its operations in Malaysia, the country has again become a dumping ground for radioactive wastes, which will remain hazardous for generations to come, as the thorium and uranium in the WLP wastes have very long half-lives of millions and billions of years.

Instead of closing down its operations and asking Lynas to deal with the radioactive and toxic wastes, the government has allowed the company to continue its operations for six months, subject to conditions, which give rise to further questions and concerns.

One of the conditions is that Lynas secure a Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) for its radioactive wastes.  However, the government press release does not specify when the wastes are to be transferred from its temporary site to the PDF.

Since the license is renewed for six months, can Lynas find a site that is “safe” and suitable during these six months, and also complete other required processes?  Importantly, there is need for an Environmental Impact Assessment and the Radiological Impact Assessment to be done following our laws, which has to be subject to public consultation and approval. There should not be any compromise for these to be properly done, or any efforts to rush through   these processes without all the safety concerns being addressed.

At the very least, the Lynas operations should have been suspended until the PDF is in place, as it has already accumulated 580,000 tonnes of radioactive wastes. With every day of operations, more and more radioactive wastes will be generated daily.

Another condition is for Lynas to come up with a plan to build a cracking and leaching facility (CLF) abroad, and thus to transfer the cracking and leaching process away from its plant in Gebeng, Kuantan.  Thus, the material which Lynas will bring to its Malaysian plant would not contain radioactive material.  However, this facility abroad will become operational only within four years, from the effective licensing date, according to the government press release.

We are unable to understand why the government has given Lynas four years to make the CLF abroad operational. This effectively means that the company will be allowed to generate another four years of radioactive wastes until the operations shift to Australia.

Presumably, these additional wastes will be also disposed off in the PDF, which in effect means that at least close to 1 million tonnes of radioactive wastes will have to be managed for decades if not centuries to come.

With this huge amount of wastes, there will be large costs of maintaining such a disposal facility.  The government should clarify the total costs of addressing the wastes, including (1) the costs of cleaning up of the temporary storage site, (2) the cost of acquiring, preparing and building the permanent disposal site, (3) the cost of maintaining the site for decades to come, and (4) the opportunity cost of not being able to make use of land in the vicinity of the site.

The government should make clear that it is Lynas that will have to bear these costs of addressing the waste problem.  In this regard, the government press release does not make this very clear and such a condition should be contained in the formal agreement between Lynas and the government.  It should not be the case that Malaysians have to pay for the costs of addressing the wastes.

The government press release has also revealed that the company is being stopped from further research into using its radioactive residue as a soil conditioner for agricultural use.  This is a welcome move by the government as we have previously pointed out the dangers both to health and the economy of such use of the waste.  

In conclusion, we continue to have concerns and questions over: (1) allowing the plant to continue operations in Malaysia; (2) the process and time frame for shifting the waste to the PDF; (3) whether the company will bear the costs of adequately addressing the waste disposal; and (4) the long period before the cracking and leaching operations are transferred out from the Malaysian plant.

We reiterate our call for the suspension of the Lynas operations until these issues are resolved properly and transparently.

 

Press Release, 16 August 2019

DO NOT GRANT LICENSE FOR OPERATION OF LEAD-ACID BATTERY MANUFACTURING PLANT IN JENJAROM, KUALA LANGAT, SELANGOR

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) urges the Selangor State Government and related government departments to reconsider the granting of the license to operate the lead-acid battery manufacturing plant in Jenjarom, Kuala Langat, which is due in late August. SAM views that it is unsuitable to operate the plant close to residential areas because the community will be exposed to pollution that can threaten their health.

Lead smelting works is hazardous to be conducted in the village. If this continues, the community is at risk of long-term health problem.

According to reports and news from local media, the problem began in early 2018 after the factory caught fire on December 12, 2017, destroying nearly 70 per cent of the factory building and after the cleaning work was completed, the factory was rebuilt in March 2018 and allowed to continue operations in September 2018.

Despite the statements of some parties on the penalty or a compound that leads to the cessation of the factory operations immediately, we believe that it is only temporary. But this irrelevant considering that this area is not an industrial zone and therefore the factory should not be granted an operating license because it is near to residential areas.

Furthermore, the lead-acid battery manufacturing activities are highly polluting and can lead to adverse impacts on the environment. News reports state that the earlier activity of lead smelting and recycling of used battery by the factory had breached the Environmental Quality Act 1974 in terms of misuse of the operating license.

Selangor Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman Hee Loy Sian said the state will always prioritise the environment, adding that it won’t compromise with anyone who goes against the rules (Free Malaysia Today, 10th August 2019).

YB Hee Loy Sian was reported stating that a fire at the factory in 2017, caused by a short circuit, had affected 80% of the factory’s facilities and 1,200 tonnes of materials were destroyed. This may have contributed to some pollution, he had added.

YB Hee said the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Department of Environment (DOE) and the Selangor Health Department were involved in checking the status of the factory. In fact, the District Council has been directed to coordinate and gather findings from all relevant agencies by mid-August to provide a comprehensive report to the Selangor Economic Action Council.

SAM urges the relevant departments such as the DOE, DOSH, Selangor Health Department and Kuala Langat District Council to take appropriate action to solve this problem because it not only affects public health but will also lead to environmental pollution in the future.

We also recommend that the state government and other authorities to take more decisive action and do not compromise in matters involving legal, environmental pollution and people’s welfare.

 

Press Statement, 14 August 2019

Deforestation and NCR violations in Sarawak: Federal government must conduct ground visits

In conjunction with the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) wishes to repeat our request to the federal government to conduct ground visits in order to understand in detail how monoculture plantations in Sarawak have caused deforestation and the violations of the native customary rights (NCR). We first put this request forward during the launching of our publication, The Land We Lost – Native customary rights and monoculture plantations in Sarawak, on July 21.

This publication stresses on how we must understand the context of large monoculture plantations in Sarawak accurately. First, they involve deforestation. Second, they are a post-logging development, a result of the depletion in timber resources, caused by indiscriminate logging conducted for more than two decades. Third, they involve NCR violations. Fourth, the excessive size of the plantations does matter, along with the manner and context in which the projects are developed, typically by corporations. As such, we continue to be supportive towards any effort to protect the interests of smallholders all over the country. Fifth, the Licence for Planted Forests (LPF) under the jurisdiction of the Sarawak Forests Department, of which 285,520 hectares are under oil palm cultivation, in principle, is the permit for the cultivation of pulp and paper and timber trees. In 2017, the size of LPF areas stood at 2.8 million hectares, larger than the size of oil palm cultivation in Sarawak, which according to the data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), stood at 1.5 million hectares.

However, the response from the federal government to this publication appears to be limited to the argument that the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) also recognises the NCR. In actual fact, chapter three of the publication has already noted this effort. Nevertheless, it questions how this principle can be put into effect in Sarawak, when the state government has a very narrow interpretation on the NCR, typically determines NCR territories in a unilateral fashion and the issuance of most plantation licences in the state has already been done.

In fact, even the MPOB form for smallholders in Sarawak contains the disclaimer which states that the purpose of the form is solely to verify oil palm cultivation areas, and not for verifying NCR ownership. Although it may note the NCR status, its verification it seems is still dependent on the state authorities. Therefore, what is the fate of indigenous oil palm smallholders in Sarawak whose NCR land, although still safe for now, is situated within the licensed areas of corporate plantations? This is only one of the numerous problems affecting NCR territories in Sarawak.

Justice in the management of natural resources is the foundation to environmental and human rights protection. There can never be sustainability without justice. The injustice in the manner corporate oil palm plantations have been developed in Sarawak since the 1990s is precisely the reason for which the industry is criticised. This injustice may also affect smallholders. This injustice also involves pulp and paper and timber tree plantations, a fact which has sadly been given a far lesser attention. Prior to the 1990s, logging and dam construction in Sarawak have long been associated with the same injustice.

Clearly, the core problem here is the systemic injustice in the policies and laws in Sarawak, which have failed to ensure the sustainable management of forests and NCR land tenure security. Further, they also involve other governance failures as well. First is the failure to fully recognise the NCR, including those on forested areas, in accordance with customary laws and judicial decisions. Second, the absence of the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process. Third, the control exerted over indigenous village leadership and consultation spaces. Fourth, a non-transparent governance system. Fifth, the prohibition against mapping activities without state authorisation. Sixth, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process which does not incorporate mandatory public participation. Seventh, the policy which permits deforestation in the development of pulp and paper, timber tree and oil palm plantations, including on Forest Reserves and Protected Forests.

We are pleased that the federal government has undertaken several correct actions in its effort to fulfill ‘Promise 38’ of its electoral manifesto – to advance the interests of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia.  We hope that ‘Promise 48’ of the manifesto, which is to return and guarantee the right of customary land of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, will not be neglected.

For the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, we would like to wish you ‘Happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples!’

The Land We Lost can be accessed at:

https://www.foe-malaysia.org/the_land_we_lost

Encroachment on Orang Asli Customary Land in Peninsular Malaysia can be accessed at:

https://www.foe-malaysia.org/violations_of_orang_asli_customary_land_rights_caused_by_systemic_conditions

Press ReleaseAugust 9, 2019

Consumers living beyond their means

Consumers are living beyond their means because of the escalating food prices. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has been highlighting the astronomical increase in food prices for decades but the calls have fallen on deaf ears.
We are now experiencing high cost of living caused by multiple factors and one reason is that we have been too dependent on imported food which negatively impacts on the outflow of our Ringgit, particularly when our currency is weak.
In mid-2018, a report revealed that our liquid milk produced nationwide is sufficient to meet only 5% of domestic needs, the rest of which had to be imported. This is obvious as we can see in the table below as attached .
CAP has been actively advocating agriculture for decades. Malaysia miserably failed in the agricultural sector because we are highly dependent on imported agricultural produce. There is so much contrast with our immediate neighbour, Thailand, which developed its agricultural sector in 1960, utilising underused land and labour.
Malaysia was reported to be spending a staggering RM3.2 billion on imported vegetables and fruits in 2016. Our agricultural priority has been misplaced because as in 2012, Malaysia has 5.1 million hectares (ha) of oil palm cultivation as compared to 52,582 ha of vegetables and 205,467 ha of fruits. The acreage for both vegetables and fruits is 258,049 ha or a mere 5.1 per cent of that used for oil palm cultivation.
The declining Ringgit has also impacted the cost of production in terms of costlier farming equipment and agricultural chemicals.
In all, we do not have a self-sustainable food production policy which makes us highly vulnerable in times like now. Moreover, food supply chain from the farm-to-the-table is grossly inefficient thereby allowing multi tiers of middlemen profiteering from the process.
There were also claims of syndicates controlling food supply and prices.
For fisheries, fishermen, especially the trawlers, have been indiscriminately depleting marine resources. It was predicted that the waters around the country would be depleted of fish by 2048. The declining fish population was attributed to the used of banned equipment such as rawa sorong (drag nets), harvesting more the sustainable level.
Besides over-fishing, the use of non-selective gears also hauled the non-commercial fishes, juveniles of commercial fishes, and other marine species as well. Instead of releasing the non-commercial fishes and juveniles of commercial fishes back into the sea, they send these for processing into animal food.
When the food chain is broken from indiscriminate fishing, it will affect the entire aquatic ecosystem. With a depleting wealth of marine resources, we can expect fish prices to skyrocket.  Big Jawed Jumber (ikan serumbu), East Asian Fourfinger Threadfin (ikan kurau), Sleeper Goby (ikan ubi) and the Greenback Mullet (ikan kedera) can hardly be found in the market.
We would suggest fishermen to stop fishing during the breeding season so as to allow the replenishment of the aquatic stock besides refraining from the use of banned fishing gear.
We urge the government to revamp the entire agricultural policy, the various relevant government agencies, the food supply chain, and also the fishery sector which are all non-sustainable. Without a total overhaul, it is impossible to reverse the damage that had been done close to four decades.
Press Statement, 7 August 2019

Old lifts must be replaced

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is shockingly not shocked about the incident involving the lift at the Kampung Kerinchi PPR flat suddenly dropping 15m from the 5th floor to the ground floor. We had stressed in the past that the probability of accidents happening is higher since the period in between DOSH inspections of the lifts is too long, i.e. 15 months. This time they were lucky that the incident did not result in any deaths, only injuries.

To label the incident as a freak accident is irresponsible. Just because the lift cables did not snap, the brakes were working and the computer system was functioning does not mean that there is no problem, it is just that the problem is difficult to detect.

The lift in Kampung Kerinchi PPR flat is said to be 12 years old which can be considered reaching the end of its lifespan considering a lift’s lifespan is between 12 and 20 years depending on the usage. Furthermore, the residents claim that the lift had broken down many times before.

Besides DOSH’s inspection every 15 months, the owner of the lifts is also supposed to get DOSH certified contractors to maintain the lifts in between that time. However, we have received a complaint that competent contractors certified by DOSH that maintain the lifts tend to be reluctant to change parts in old lifts even though they keep breaking down and instead just keep “servicing” them. The excuse is that the parts are hard to come by and that the lifts seem to be “working” after the “servicing”.

How can DOSH certify contractors/companies have this attitude and how can DOSH keep issuing CFs for lifts in these conditions? Perhaps this is what happened in the Kampung Kerinchi PPR flat case. So why not replace the old lifts with new ones?

During the time of the previous government there was a fund called Program Tabung Penyelenggaraan 1Malaysia (TP1M). The cost for certain things could be subsidised using the TP1M fund, one of them being the repair and replacement of lifts. The government would subsidise 90% of the cost for low cost flats and 70% of the cost for low-medium cost flats. What has happened to this fund?

People need to take safety measures more seriously and it must start with the authorities. In this case, lifts need to be inspected by DOSH inspectors earlier than 15 months and no compromises should be made by certified contractors or the authorities – old lifts must be replaced.

Letter to the Editor, 6 August 2019