Discontinue new rare earth plant in Gebeng

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are very concerned with the Pahang State Government’s decision to go ahead with the proposed rare earth plant in Gebeng despite the fact that this refinery is a disaster waiting to happen.

In 2007, SAM was invited by the Terengganu Government to give a briefing on the dangers of rare earth and SAM’s experience dealing with the exposure of radioactive waste in Bukit Merah, Perak. Following this, the project was rejected by the Terengganu Government.

In the last 3 years, CAP and SAM have objected vehemently to the proposed rare earth plant due to the potential public health and environmental impacts of radioactive and hazardous waste that would be generated.

There has been no full public disclosure of this proposed project. A detailed environmental impact assessment was not required due to a loophole in our law. Thus there was no avenue for the public to review the proposed mitigation measures and potential risks, and raise their objections.

The company has said that there will be low level exposure to radiation. This is alarming as there is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure. Long-term, low-level (chronic) exposure to radiation is harmful because living tissue in the human body can be damaged by ionizing radiation.

The exposure to radioactive waste can contribute to increased incidence of childhood leukemia, cancer, miscarriages, impaired immune systems with abnormally low white blood cell counts, high lead levels among children which would lead to lead poisoning.

Children are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation disasters than the general population because their bodies absorb and metabolize substances differently, and because they are more likely to develop certain cancers from such an exposure. There is also a high possibility that children born to parents that have been exposed to radiation could be affected by those exposures too.

The other issue of concern is that there no known way to safely dispose the waste which is generated from this refinery.

Given all these risks, is the Government prepared to sacrifice lives for the sake of profits?

Taking into account the seriousness of the risks involved in running such a plant, we strongly urge the Government to call off this project immediately.


Letter to editor, 11 March 2011