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The bitter history of Malaysia’s Bukit Merah rare earths project

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

Today, the government is the official custodian of this repository in Bukit Merah. This site in Bukit Merah is declared as a restricted and dangerous dump site for radioactive materials but a curtain of official silence has descended on it. Has the government not learnt from Bukit Merah?

The Lynas project is likely to be a replay of the ARE fiasco but on a much larger scale.

The benefits gained by Malaysia from the Lynas investment are very little relative to the risks involved. Whilst the profits of the project go to Lynas (untaxed) and the few Malaysian companies that are involved in the construction of and the provision of supplies to the Gebeng rare earth plant, the radioactive waste will remain in
Malaysian soil for hundreds of years.

Lynas issue: Not learning from bitter experience —The Malaysian Insider,  Richard Pendragon, April 12, 2012 “……..Bukit Merah The history of the rare earth industry in Malaysia is little known to most Malaysians. Most Malaysians in fact think that the Lynas project in Pahang is the first time Malaysia has been associated with this industry.
Few Malaysians actually know that there was a rare earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak, which has been closed some 10 or more years ago, following a ruling by the High Court of Malaysia that the company involved was in negligence, and that the radioactive waste generated by the plant was dangerous and had to be removed and secured in a safe
place away from people for hundreds of years.

The evidence of the hazardous legacy of this rare earth plant is still present in our midst as a reminder to every one of the risks involved.
All you need is to take a trip to Bukit Merah and you will see the
existence of a restricted site where the toxic radioactive waste has
been stored in specially engineered concrete cells, and entombed
deeply in a repository, to prevent any leakage of radiation from the
radioactive waste for the next few hundred years.

The company that was involved in the rare earth plant was called Asian
Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE). This was a joint venture established between
Mitsubishi Chemical Corp (MCC) of Japan, Beh Minerals Sdn Bhd, the
local partner and the government, through Tabung Haji in the early
nineties.

ARE was based in Menglembu, Ipoh and the joint venture was founded on
the basis that the local partner  would supply the raw materials
(tailings from the many tin mines in Perak) and MCC would provide the
technology and expertise to extract the rare earth minerals, by a
cracking process.

In this cracking process, along with the extraction of rare earth
minerals such as Monazite, Xenotime, Zircon, Yttrium etc, a waste
product called thorium hydroxide is produced and this substance is
radioactive.
Experts brought in to present evidence in support of the court hearing
against ARE testified that prolonged exposure to radiation leaked from
the radioactive waste materials from ARE’s rare earth plant would be
harmful to the health of the residents living in the Menglembu area,
where the plant was located.

ARE was subsequently closed and wound up.

The shareholders of the company had to engage a highly specialised
radioactive waste management consultancy firm from the US, called
Dames and Moore, to relocate, treat and dispose of the radioactive
waste from the dump site in Menglembu to a safe repository. The cost
of the whole exercise ran into hundreds of millions of US dollars to
contain radiation leak from the radioactive waste.

Meanwhile local residents have blamed the ARE refinery for the high
numbers of birth defects and leukaemia cases within the last five
years in a community of 11,000 — after many years of local history
with no leukaemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have died.

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

Today, the government is the official custodian of this repository in
Bukit Merah. This site in Bukit Merah is declared as a restricted and
dangerous dump site for radioactive materials but a curtain of
official silence has descended on it.
http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/lynas-issue-not-learning-from-bitter-experience-richard-pendragon

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April 13, 2012 - Posted by | environment, history, Malaysia, Reference, Uranium, wastes

2 Comments »

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