Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) refers to the recent statement by Perak Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad, regarding the mining of lanthanide in Kenering, Gerik, published in media reports on 28 September 2022.
The MB has been stressing the point that the lanthanide, which is being mined is not radioactive.
SAM is compelled to point out that just because lanthanide in itself is not radioactive, the mining process for extracting the ore is not free from making radioactive materials which are naturally present in the environment more bioavailable, thus raising concerns about increased exposure to radiation.
The point is that the proposed activity in Kenering has a high risk of increasing the concentrations of naturally occurring radionuclides such as thorium in the existing environment, in addition to ammonium (which is non-radioactive but is toxic).
The practice of in-situ leaching to extract and recycle processed water as a leaching solution imposes a high risk of increasing the concentrations of naturally occurring radionuclides and enhances the exposure from natural radiation sources.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project, the average thorium (Th-232) content from the project site soil samples was 3.8 times higher than the national average. In addition, naturally occurring radioactive thorium (Th-228) from the lands involved were reported to be far above the regulated level of 1Bq/g. These facts alone raise alarm bells, which seem to have been ignored or downplayed by the MB.
The MB must also address this aspect of the mining process and not only focus on the final extracted lanthanide ore, which tends to convey the message that the mining process is safe and environmentally sound, which is not the case from SAM’s perspective.
As SAM has pointed out persistently on this matter, research studies from China on ion-adsorption clay rare earth mining sites have shown radioactive activity concentrations of the sludge being above the regulated 1 Bq/g.
In our critique of the EIA, there has not been a proper characterisation of the sludge, which is a fundamental flaw.
It does not help in building the trust of the public and the local communities around when the MB only harps on the point of lanthanide not being radioactive and does not address the concerns raised about the sludge and the process of extraction, which is the problem.
The Perak MB has also been reported to have said that “… the method to mine the mineral is not like the conventional method of tin mining using a dredge” and that “no trees will be felled” for this project and that it uses “modern methods” where “we drill a hole, put in aluminium sulphate for a reaction to take place, and extract the lanthanide.”
The MB’s portrayal of the project as being ‘green’ is far from the truth.
The entire project involves the construction of 7 hydro metallurgical plants (40.7 ha in total). It is therefore misleading to say that no trees will be felled when trees have to be felled for these metallurgical plants.
Moreover, the main concern with the project is that compared to conventional methods, in-situ leaching may have less impact in terms of land clearing, but it poses more serious risks to groundwater and the degradation of soils. This is made worse when the entire site falls within the National Physical Plan’s classification of being rank 1 as an Environmentally Sensitive Area, which does not allow such mining activity from taking place in the first place.
The practice of in-situ leaching has revealed serious environmental problems including underground water contamination, mine collapses and landslides. More than 100 landslides have been reported in the Ganzhou region in China which were attributed to in-situ mining and leaching practices, at significant human costs and losses.
The MB’s claim that Perak needs additional sources of income to help bring progress is understandable, but this must not be at the expense of serious concerns over the health of humans and an environmentally sensitive ecosystem.
Perak can obtain additional revenues from the federal government and from international funds to protect its forests and biodiversity, without compromising the health and environment of its citizens.
We must seek more sustainable and environmentally sound forms of generating revenue for the state. The MB should not be risking people’s health and the environment with the illusory promise of profits for the state.
For more information, please refer to the SAM’s Briefing Document (August 2022) here: https://foe-malaysia.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/220904-Kenering-Briefing-Booklet.pdf
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)
Press Statement, 30 September 2022