Radioactive waste IS NOT safe for people, not safe for communities, and not safe for the environment!
As consumers of digital technology and advocates for green energy transition and low-carbon initiatives to tackle climate change and ecological collapse, please join AidWatch in supporting concerned Malaysians to reject an unsafe radioactive waste dump by Australia’s Lynas Rare Earth (Lynas).
The Stop Lynas campaign started in March 2011 in response to the thousands of Malaysians uniting together to say no to Australian rare earth miner, Lynas Rare Earths (formally Lynas Corporations). The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) – a rare earth processing plant that is now operating in Kuantan, Malaysia, will dump by 2023 more than one million metric tonnes of toxic and radioactive waste that affects lives, livelihoods, the environment and the health of future generations.
Since 2014, AID/WATCH has supported the Australian-Malaysian Stop Lynas campaign and is currently collaborating with Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) / Friends’ of the Earth Malaysia, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas campaign and Conservation Council of Western Australia.
The Stop Lynas campaign is calling on the Malaysian government and its relevant agencies to ensure that there is complete transparency, public feedback and consultations – noting that the Western Australian Government has required Lynas to transport ALL of its wastes from its proposed Kalgoorlie processing plant back to Mt Weld for disposal in accordance with its low-level radioactive waste management plan – we demand Lynas removes all its radioactive waste from Malaysia under their original licence conditions and legal undertakings.
Reject Lynas Rare Earths Radioactive Waste Unsafe Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) in Kuantan, Malaysia
Malaysians should not be left to face the danger, health and environmental risk and hazards; and the long-term inconvenience and costs of housing a mega radioactive waste dump of toxic materials brought in by Australian Rare Earth miner Lynas.
The Making of Lynas’ Toxic Legacy in Malaysia
Lynas is a heavily traded company listed with the Sydney Stock Exchange. Lynas mines and concentrates rare earth (RE) ores through its Mount Weld operations in Western Australia; then transports and ships the concentrate some 6,500km to its secondary processing plant, Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Malaysia – to separate and process the RE concentrate into different RE oxides/chlorides/carbonates. These compounds are then sold to companies in Japan and China to refine into individual elements for their respective industrial applications.
Rare earth processing generates massive amounts of toxic and radioactive wastes.
The LAMP attracted widespread and diverse protest actions since Malaysians first found out about it through a series of New York Times articles in 2011. The limited public consultation, the 12-year tax break awarded to Lynas, its large-scale operation and ‘zero-harm’ claims, on top of Malaysia’s own poor track record in managing rare earth pollution and radioactive waste have all contributed to Malaysians and their overseas allies responded through a decade of protest actions. To date, Lynas has generated millions of tonnes of hazardous wastes. One stream of the waste from the water leach purification process is radioactive. Lynas is forcing Malasyians to accept its proposed below-standard radiaoctive waste dump in a flood and fire prone coastal peatland against established international standards and guidelines for low-level radioactive waste contaminated with long-live radionuclides.
WHO IS LYNAS RARE EARTHS?
Lynas Rare Earths Limited, formerly Lynas Corporation Ltd, is an Australian rare-earths mining company, listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) engaged in extraction and processing of rare earth minerals, primarily in Australia and Malaysia, and development of rare earth deposits.
Lynas has two major operations:
- Mt Weld Rare Earth Mine and Concentration Plant, Western Australia: Mount Weld rare earth deposit is located 35 kilometres south of Laverton in the Northern Goldfields, Western Australia
- Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP), Kuantan, Malaysia:
And two proposed projects:
- Lynas’ Proposed radioactive waste Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) in the Bukit Kuantan Forest Reserve:
- Rare Earths Processing Plant, Western Australia: to process the Rare Earth concentrate from their mine at Mt Weld in the Goldfields region of WA. The material produced in Kalgoorlie will be further processed at their Lynas Malaysia processing plant.
- Lynas’ Proposed radioactive waste Permanent Disposal Facility (PDF) in the Bukit Kuantan Forest Reserve:
WHAT ARE RARE EARTHS MINERALS?
Seventeen elements form the group known as the Rare Earth Elements (REEs): the 15 lanthanides, yttrium, and usually scandium.
Rare earth elements are actually relatively abundant in the earth’s crust, but are not often concentrated in mineable deposits, and are almost always found in conjunction with significant radioactivity. Therefore, these elements are “rare” mostly because of the difficulty associated with economically extracting them.
Due to lax environmental laws, China has built a monopoly in the rare earth market controlling over 90% of the world’s rare earth minerals. Due to severe environmental issues, China has begun to mitigate the damage from the production of rare earth by shutting down small operations and raising standards as well as restricting exports meaning potential supply problems of rare earth’s. This has driven Western companies to produce on their deposits.
China’s restriction on rare earth exports has had a dramatic effect on the price of rare earth minerals which are becoming increasingly valuable as they are used in electronic equipment like computers, mobile phones and the “green” economy including wind turbines and hybrid cars. Other uses include medical devices, and military applications such as missiles, jet engines, and satellites.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?
Environmental, Health and Safety Concerns for Workers and Local Communities
One of the most contentious issues with the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant is its radioactive waste contaminated with a cocktail of thorium (Th-232), uranium (U-238) radionuclides, toxic heavy metals including lead, chromium, and nickel as well as various rare earth residues in its radioactive waste stream. Exposure to this cocktail of toxic elements over time increases the risk of developing cancer and other serious health problems, posing serious risks to workers at the LAMP and surrounding communities in the long term.
Thorium and uranium are long-live radionuclides with half-lives in the billions of years. In industrial waste, they are sources of harmful ionising radiation that can cause genetic mutations, and hence must be isolated from the biosphere. All of these toxic elements can be leached, mobilised and concentrated; and bioaccumulate in our environment and in living cells over time.
An earlier rare earth plant, the Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) owned by Mitsubishi Chemicals in Bukit Merah in the state of Perak, Malaysia was forced to close down after strong community pressure and court action. During the 1980s and early ’90s, Mitsubishi dumped radioactive waste onto open ground. The Malaysian authorities assured local people it was safe. After years of discontent, Mitsubishi closed down the plant and allocated AUS$100 million to the clean-up operation.
Mitsubishi has completed a PDF based on 10,000-years design life. In the wet tropical climate, there is no guarantee that the PDF will remain intact since landslides and soil erosion caused by heavy deluges are common occurrences.
The ARE contaminated a large area due to its poor waste handling and affected many nearby residents. Unknown number of people have died. Abnormally high numbers of childhood leukaemia and birth defects were observed. Some of the surviving residents of Bukit Merah are still plagued with severe health problems. There was no follow up by the Government or any epidemiological study done to better understand the health impact. Until this very day, the Malaysian authorities refuse to acknowledge that the radioactive waste was responsible for the sudden escalation of health problems among the residents.
Lynas’ radioactive waste is about 60 times MORE compared to the ARE. Despite Lynas’ public proclamation of “Zero Harm” commitment, it has reneged on many of its commitments and claims in its original plant blueprints. Instead, the amounts of hazardous and radioactive wastes generated per year have increased significantly. It should be noted that the ores that Chinese miners were exposed to in Bayan Obo Rare-Earth and Iron Mine contained 400 ppm of thorium. The rare earth concentrate that workers at Kuantan port and LAMP exposed to are around 1200 ppm of Th-232 and Lynas’ waste contains between 1600 to 1953 ppm of Th-232. The US Public Health Service (1990) reports that the natural background level in the soil is typically 6 ppm of thorium.
The ARE contaminated a large area and affected many nearby residents. Several people died. Abnormally high numbers of childhood leukaemia and birth defects were observed. Some of the surviving residents of Bukit Merah are still plagued with severe health problems. Until this very day, the Malaysian authorities refuse to acknowledge that the radioactive waste was responsible for the sudden escalation of health problems among the residents.
Lynas is processing 10 times the amount of ore compared to the ARE. Despite Lynas’ public proclamation of “Zero Harm” commitment, there are no foolproof containment measures for such toxic residue for workers onsite at the LAMP. It should be noted that the ores that Chinese miners were exposed to in Bayan Obo Rare-Earth and Iron Mine contained 400 ppm of thorium. The rare earth oxide concentrates that will be arriving shortly at Kuantan port will have 1600 ppm of thorium. The US Public Health Service (1990) reports that the natural background level in the soil is typically 6 ppm of thorium.
The LAMP is located close to fishing communities and coastal resorts. The local community is deeply worried that the toxic and hazardous waste will, over time, contaminate a large area beyond the vicinity of the plant. There are serious concerns that the fishing grounds could be contaminated, affecting their food safety and their health, potentially ending the local fishery industry and the tourism trade.
“No monetary returns of whatever Foreign Direct Investment and its spinoffs can outweigh possible radiation and/or other health risks, which can wreak harm on our citizens, perhaps for as long as the half-lives of some of the extremely toxic radionuclide waste products —which in some cases might be ‘forever’!”
 ‘Results from a study of thorium lung burdens and health effects among miners in China’, Chen XA, Cheng YE, Rong Z, Journal of Radiological Protection, 2005
DONATE TO STOP LYNAS
Please donate to support efforts in Malaysia and through AidWatch to compel Lynas to uphold its legal undertakings to remove its radioactive waste from Malaysia and to dispose of in accordance with Australian regulation and standards.
Malaysians are taking Lynas and its Government to the court to enforce its law on Lynas. AidWatch is working alongside Malaysian civil society in providing technical and policy advice. AidWatch is continuing to explore legal avenues to hold Lynas accountable. Your donations are much needed to help us and the Malaysians to continue our uphill battle against Lynas' green extractivism and geopolitical powerplay.
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