Malaysians Do NOT Want Lynas' Toxic Radioactive Legacy

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Malaysia Should not be Left with Lynas’ Toxic Radioactive Waste
for the sake of Foreign Direct Investment

We, the undersigned Rakyat join over 200 Malaysian civil society groups, to express our deep disappointment with Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his PH Cabinet for renewing the operating licence of the 100% Australian-owned Lynas Corporation to continue generating toxic radioactive waste through its rare earth processing plant in Gebeng near Kuantan.

Already, a ginormous cancer-causing radioactive toxic legacy is in the making since Australia has refused to accept this waste even though Lynas’ mine pit in Mount Weld in Western Australia would be the most logical disposal site for it.  This is Tun’s second Japanese sponsored toxic radioactive legacy for Malaysia.  Tun’s Lynas toxic legacy will be at least 100 times bigger than his first – that of Mitsubishi’s Asian Rare Earth in Bukit Merah.

We appeal and call on the PH Government to:

·       enforce the law and uphold MESTECC’s decisions from December 2018 by suspending Lynas’ waste storage licences immediately to prevent further accumulation of toxic radioactive waste since (i) Australia has refused to accept this waste; and (ii) Lynas has yet to manage its scheduled waste in accordance with EQA (Scheduled Waste 2005) Regulation.   Lynas’ current waste storage facility by its rare earth plant are contaminating the environment and waterways. It is inappropriately located in a low-lying peat mangrove swamp close to fishing communities and tourist resorts.  This is unsafe and is against established international standards for radiation safety and protection;

·       hold Lynas accountable for its massive radioactive waste problems and groundwater contamination it has caused by requiring Lynas to clean up the mess;

·       independently carry out a comprehensive long-term health risk assessment study of the implication of Malaysia ending up with the total quantity of Lynas’ wastes, especially its toxic thorium waste from the water leach purification (WLP) stream;

·       to assess the long-term reputational risk to our seafood and agricultural produce from potential contamination of rare earth and other toxic elements;

·       to study legacy and contamination sites clean-up costs to ensure that Lynas bear that costs up-front; and

·       carry out a full audit of Lynas’ financial viability in meeting its long-term waste management obligations and responsibilities.

We urge the Australian Government, especially the Australian High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur to heed the facts that for decades, Malaysians have invested billions in Australia through properties, businesses and education.  Many highly educated bright Malaysians have migrated to Australia to contribute positively to the Australian economy.  Malaysians have held Australia in high regard. Yet, the High Commissioner has backed a controversial company like Lynas, hence undermining efforts in Malaysia to push for law enforcement to improve our environmental governance, at the same time, failing to heed its own Western Australian Government’s preference for Lynas to process its ore locally, where its radioactive waste will be under stricter control in more technically secured infrastructure.

We would like to remind the High Commissioner of a 2011 letter by then Foreign Minister Mr Kevin Rudd who stated that “The Australian Government expects Australian companies to operate to high environmental and safety standards in their overseas operations as they would in Australia.”  Yet Lynas has reneged on its obligations and responsibility to abide by the IAEA recommendations and its licence conditions, and to act responsibly in accordance with Malaysian regulations.

Additionally, we call on the Australian Government to:

·         cease exerting diplomatic pressure on Malaysia to accept Lynas’ toxic thorium waste to pursue rare earth geopolitical advantages;

·         withhold Lynas’ lanthanide concentrate export to Malaysia until Lynas has removed its WLP waste from Malaysia in accordance with its own undertakings in 2012 and managed its scheduled waste within Malaysian regulations. 

·         compel ASIC to enforce its ASX Corporate Governance Principles requiring corporations to act ethically and responsibly by ensuring that Lynas adheres to its licence conditions and undertakings in the interest of Malaysian health and well-being, regardless of weaknesses of technical capability and weak law enforcement by the Malaysian Government.

We appeal and call on the Japanese Government, as a major Lynas financier to:
·       compel Lynas to adhere to its undertakings to ensure that its toxic radioactive waste is removed from Malaysia, away from the low-lying peat mangrove and human settlement where it is stored at present;

·       refrain from putting diplomatic pressure on Malaysia to accept Lynas' toxic radioactive waste irrespective of the Samurai bond extended by Japan to Malaysia to meet Malaysia’s budget shortfalls.  The loan will be repaid through the hard work of Malaysians. Our country and our people should not be endured toxic hazards and made scapegoats of Japan’s geopolitical problems or its loan to Lynas;

·       acknowledge that for as long as Lynas’ radioactive waste remains in Malaysia; its rare earth supply chain is tainted.  Lynas has no social licence to operate and its rare earth cannot be considered green and clean.  The same reputational problem applies to any Japanese product made with Lynas’ rare earth, especially when China has since 2011 imposed stringent pollution limits on its rare earth industry, showing Lynas and s into a bad light.

Using geopolitical pressure to force Malaysia to accept Lynas’ radioactive waste for the profit of an Australian company and the benefits of Japan is immoral and politically corrupt.  It is essentially subjecting citizens of a debt-ridden developing country to the double injustice from more severe impact of climate change on the one hand, and the hazards from the processing of rare earth minerals to feed the rising demand for low-emission technology for the benefits of advanced industrialised nations that are largely responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the problem of climate change in the first place.

Finally, we call on civil society the world over and concerned individuals to join us in our struggle for democratic governance, for a clean and safe future for Malaysia and to genuinely and effectively address climate change by:

·       holding Australia’s Lynas Corporation accountable for its radioactive waste to prevent a second toxic legacy for Malaysia;

·       expose Lynas for its dirty rare earth supply chains through transferring the hazardous mid-stream processing operations to Malaysia and leaving radioactive waste in Malaysia that lacks regulatory control, limited by knowledge, expertise and infrastructure to safely manage hazards and risk from the waste;

·       ensuring that technical solutions for tackling climate change do not lead to developing countries copping double climate injustice such as that resulting from Lynas, in the name of low-emission green technology; and

·       calling on UN agencies especially UNFCCC to ensure that low-emission technological solutions proposed for climate change mitigation and adaptation purposes have clean and green supply chains that do not lead to human rights violations or toxic legacy in poor developing countries.

Background

We reiterate our strong position and appeal in our earlier memorandum to Tun and his Cabinet on Lynas dated 10th June 2019 to enforce the law on Lynas.  Lynas’ radioactive waste must be removed from Malaysia.  In advanced industrialised countries, even in China today, radioactive and toxic legacy sites are being cleaned up at enormous costs, due to the devastating impact on their societies and environment.  Low-level radioactive waste containing long-live thorium and uranium is a permanent cancer and chronic health hazard that needs to be isolated from the environment – in DRY and secured engineered facility.  Malaysia is a wet tropical country prone to floods, landslides and erosion.  There is nowhere safe in Malaysia for Lynas’ permanent disposal facility (PDF) that can isolate Lynas’ radiation and toxic hazards from the biosphere. The acceptance of Lynas’ claims and the denial of harms and risks by Lynas are the very reason why Malaysia cannot depend on Lynas to manage its toxic radioactive waste safely.  And our regulators have been completely captured by Lynas to date, instead of fulfilling their fiduciary duty of care.

Malaysians did NOT invite Lynas here.  Lynas picked Malaysia because of the 12-year tax holiday, pollution-tolerant inept regulators, lower operation cost and limited technical understanding of radiation safety.  Why should law-abiding tax paying Malaysians put up with Lynas’ toxic radioactive risk and hazards from its waste?

Lynas is a junior mining company with a weak financial position due mainly to its predominantly low-value light rare earth mineral ore.  Lynas has a massive debt burden made light only through the Japanese generous low-interest loan extension.  In pursue of profit, Lynas exploits Malaysia by playing politics and speculating on rare earth, backed by Japan due to the latter’s torrid relationship with China, its traditional rare earth supplier.  For that, Malaysians are expected to endure its environmental pollution and public health hazards amounting to an increased risk of getting cancer for as long as its toxic radioactive waste remains in the country.  

Lynas’ waste from the water leach purification stream are contaminated with radionuclides at 1952ppm of long-live thorium and 29ppm of uranium respectively[1]; toxic heavy metals – 490ppm lead, 111ppm nickel, 795 ppm chromium, 8ppm cadmium and 2890ppm manganese/magnesium[2].  Other hazardous contaminants included arsenic, mercury and copious amount of chemicals which can mobilise the radionuclides and heavy metals into the surrounding land and waters in times of floods and heavy rainfall due to Lynas’ inadequate waste storage facility.[3]  Data revealed in the Executive Review Committee (ERC) report from Lynas’ own monitoring stations have already showed serious contamination by lead, nickel, chromium and mercury since 2015.  Lynas did not test for contamination by radionuclides even though IAEA has stressed the importance of doing that in both its 2011 and 2014 reports.

These contaminants are toxic substances that will bio-accumulate over the lifetime of living things including humans and pollute the environment into the future to cause harms in Malaysia.  Radionuclides in living cells has the capability to pass onto future generations.  Reputable health agencies including World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have warned against these toxic substances because they can cause cancer and/or fatal and chronic health problems when exposed in large enough quantity over time.   The burden of costly legacy site clean-up and acute health care will unfairly fall onto Malaysians.

Worse, Malaysia will bear the tarnished reputation as a friendly toxic waste dumping ground.  As Lynas’ massive piles of wastes continue to rise into the otherwise tranquil and beautiful coastal skyline, people will be reminded of Najib’s poisoned chalice, which Tun’s and PH’s took on to leave a toxic legacy forever.  For that, Lynas has enjoyed a 12-year tax holiday granted by Najib’s Government blessed by the current PH regime despite the country’s heavy debt burdens and spiralling toxic pollution problems through decades of neglect and lax environmental law enforcement.

Lynas has violated its licence conditions and failed to firstly present a safe permanent disposal location and plan; and now reneged on its own undertakings made in 2012 to remove its radioactive and scheduled waste.  If we call businesses that have brought in foreign rubbish into Malaysia traitors, then our regulators, ministers, MPs and Senators who are backing Lynas instead of fulfilling their fiduciary duty of care to uphold the law to enforce licence conditions on Lynas are no different.  This systemic and systematic failures of our Government have now continued despite the historical change of Government last May.

[1] Radionuclide concentration has been verified by the UKM study https://aip.scitation.org/doi/pdf/10.1063/1.4866110
[2] Concentration of heavy metals and arsenic is sourced from Table 1 of Lynas’ own Safety Case Analysis by Environ in 2011
[3] http://www.ukm.my/mjas/v22_n6/pdf/NurShahidah_22_6_6.pdf