Posted: 10 Jun 2011 07:00 PM PDT
Eighty-thousand drums of radioactive waste are buried at the foothill of the Kledang Range, and DAP is concerned about the safety of Perakians.
IPOH: There is a time-bomb ticking in Perak in the form of 80,000 drums buried in a toxic radioactive dump site at the foothill of the Kledang Range behind the town of Papan.
And these 200-litre drums, according to DAP, pose a danger to the lives of Perakians.
DAP national vice-chairman M Kula Segaran told FMT that while the dump site is 3km from Bukit Merah, 4.8km from Papan and 8km from Ipoh, any leakage could easily pollute the underground water supply and adjacent rivers, putting the state at risk.
The Ipoh Barat MP said the federal government's decision in 1984 to pick the Kledang Range as a dump site was shortsighted because the area was a converging point of several streams as well as the source of Sungai Johan.
"The lifespan of the dump has been reported to be only about 20 years and there is a possibility that the drums may leak due to the corrosive nature of toxic waste.
"A radioactive leak from this dump will not only affect Bukit Merah, Menglembu, Lahat, Papan but also the whole of Kinta Valley and lower Perak," he warned.
About 20 years ago, Bukit Merah was the site of a rare earth plant owned by Japan's Mitsubishi Chemicals Asians Rare Earth (ARE) and is still undergoing a massive clean-up of toxic waste.
The residents of Bukit Merah's new village were greatly affected by the radiation, with cases of birth defects and miscarriages. Eight leukemia cases were also reported.
After a 10-year legal battle with ARE, the villagers managed to shut down the plant.
Now, controversy surrounds the proposal to construct a new rare earth plant by Australian company Lynas in Kuantan.
Kulasegaran said the federal government must learn from the incident in Bukit Merah and reject the proposed Lynas plant before another tragedy occurs.
CAP questions rationality
Meanwhile, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) in its book titled "Wasted Lives (Radioactive Poisoning in Bukit Merah)" – made available to FMT – had questioned the rationality in the Perak government storing this toxic waste for future use as nuclear fuel.
CAP said this was a wrong decision that would affect not only the health of Perakians but also the environment.
The association also punched holes in Puspati's (the Tun Ismail Atomic Research Centre) assumption that the technology for thorium-cycle reactors would be viable in the near future when the supply of uranium runs out.
CAP pointed out that thorium cannot be used directly as nuclear fuel but must first be converted in a time-consuming and costly process to uranium 232.
It might take between 20 and 60 years for a reactor to convert enough thorium to fuel another reactor.
Besides, CAP added, the cost factor would be mind-boggling.
The consumer body said instead of taking responsibility for thorium toxic waste, the government should have opted for the better option of exporting the radioactive waste together with the rare earth.
CAP also warned that the cost of cleaning up the dump site every 20 years would escalate as the toxicity of thorium waste had a very long lifespan.
17 hours ago
Apr 8 2011, 02:42 PM2 Ipoh and Pahang Are Sitting On a Time Bomb
By Mariam MokhtarAlthough a distance of over 300 miles separates Bukit Merah, a suburb of Ipoh and Gebeng, outside of Kuantan, these two industrial areas have one thing in common.
They will be connected by rare earth technology, which most people have never even heard of until the recent protests in Kuantan and the nuclear disaster which followed the tsunami in north-eastern Japan.
These obscure elements are the magic ingredients in almost everything that make our modern lives possible. Rare earth elements power our computer screens, iPhones, catalytic converters and low energy light bulbs.
Memories of Bukit Merah
Gebeng will soon acquire a new RM700 million rare earth plant which will generate radioactive waste and which many people and environmentalists say, have revived memories of Bukit Merah – Ipoh's own environmental disaster.
In 1979 the federal government authorised the establishment of a rare earth plant in Perak. Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE), a joint-venture between Mitsubishi Chemical Industries Ltd, Beh Minerals, Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji and several bumiputera entities began operating its plant off Jalan Lahat in Bukit Merah in 1982.
In 1984 residents of Papan signed a petition against ARE to the federal government. They took to the streets to protest and organised a hunger strike. Experts visited the Papan dumpsite and declared it unsafe with radiation up to 800 times the accepted level.
The man behind the protest was Hew Yoon Tat, a butcher at the Bukit Merah market. Hew heads the Perak Anti-Radioactive Committee. He was among those who were incarcerated under ISA in the infamous Op Lalang of 1987.
In 1992 the plant was ordered to shut down by a High Court order. Although an appeal to the Supreme Court was pending, ARE decided to cease operations in 1994.
Sadly, not many Malaysians are aware that Bukit Merah and its radioactive waste problem still exists. To Ipohites, the fiasco is like a recurring nightmare.
Nuclear Waste in Perak
Last year, the government proposed the construction of two nuclear power plants in Malaysia. Former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad disagreed with the decision and reported that "a small amount" of nuclear waste was buried in Perak.
Mahathir said, "In Malaysia, we do have nuclear waste which perhaps the public is not aware of. We had to bury the amang (tin tailings) in Perak, deep in the ground. But the place is still not safe. Almost one square mile of that area is dangerous."
The waste, incidentally, is not amang but contains thorium hydroxide. ARE extracted yytrium from monazite, one of the minerals found in amang for use in high technology products. The thorium hydroxide is produced in the production process. Both monazite and the waste contain thorium, which has a half-life of 13.9 billion years. It is going to be around for more than just a few generations of Ipohites. Worse still is that cancer-causing radon gas is released during decay.
Higher Incidence Of Cancer
A private practitioner, Dr. T. Jayabalan, found that in 1984, 13 children from Bukit Merah had leukaemia and there was a high number of cancer cases among the 11,000 villagers.
In a survey carried out in Bukit Merah, he discovered that the number of miscarriages in the village was high, well above the national average. Tests on a sample of 60 children revealed high levels of lead in their bloodstream. Jayabalan's medical findings were submitted in the villagers' 1985 suit in the Ipoh High Court. The findings were dismissed by the presiding judge.
The Papan-Pusing-Siputeh Anti-Radioacative Waste Dump committee chairman Low Tong Hooi said that Mahathir's statements were alarming: "Why is it only now that he has admitted the radioactive dump is dangerous? In 1984, he maintained that the poorly constructed trenches for the waste in Papan were safe".
Low claimed that Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Consumer Association of Penang and the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia sought expert help from USA, UK, Canada and Japan to declare the factory and the dump unsafe.
Too Little Too Late
However, the government ignored these recommendations and only started a decommissioning and decontamination exercise in 2003 and 2005. Finally, in January 2010 work began on the building of a proper underground storage facility.
So should we not be alarmed by our unresolved Bukit Merah problem, and the one Gebeng will soon see?
Back in 1984, Mahathir's radioactive waste came from a company approved by the government to process rare earth. He assured us that everything was all right. The Ipoh judge even dismissed any allegations of cancer-causing chemicals. Today, Mahathir sings a different tune. Something must have pricked his conscience.
Should we believe the Australian company, Lynas Corporation when it tells us that Gebeng's radioactive waste is safe? Why have the Australian people rejected their own mining company's safety assurances, despite its billion-dollar money-making potential? Are we that gullible?
Are we simply greedy and is our government risking the rakyat's lives and a destruction of our environment?
Ipohites endured much suffering. Perhaps Gebeng can learn from the experiences of Ipoh's radioactive folly.
It is just like the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai said, "As we are observing now in Japan, the waste is a sitting time bomb."
1 DUMPSITE DANGER
Jun 13 2010, 12:29 PM
http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?f…4922&sec=nationSunday June 13, 2010
BY FOONG THIM LENG
It has been 28 years but the people of Bukit Merah and Papan have not forgotten. Triggered by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's recent comments about the radioactive waste in Perak, The Star has unearthed some new developments there.
FOR almost 30 years, the country's cache of dangerous radioactive waste has been stored in drums in a concrete facility – and not buried "deep in the ground" as claimed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The former prime minister, commenting on the Government's proposal to build a nuclear power plant, told a press conference on May 14 that there was ''a small amount'' of nuclear waste buried in Perak and that the disposal site was still regarded unsafe.
''In Malaysia, we do have nuclear waste which perhaps the public is not aware of. We had to bury the amang, a by-product from tin mining.
''It is not radioactive but it is not good to handle. We had to bury it in Perak, deep in the ground. But the place is still not safe, and we have almost one square mile that is dangerous," he said, adding that he did not know where the site was.
Following his remarks, The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.
In fact, it is only January this year that work finally began on the building of a proper underground storage facility called an engineered cell (EC).
For the residents of Bukit Merah and Papan, Dr Mahathir's acknowledgement of the danger comes as a bitter vindication of their long-drawn battle to stop Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE), a company located at the Bukit Merah Industrial Area in the 1980s, from disposing of its radioactive waste near their towns.
And if the rest of the country has forgotten what they went through 27 years ago, the people of Bukit Merah, Papan and other settlements have not.
Perak Anti-Radioactive Committee chairman Hew Yoon Tat took Dr Mahathir to task for seemingly making light of the matter.
"The waste was never buried and the amount is not small. I would also like to remind Dr Mahathir that the radioactive waste came from a company approved by the Government to process rare earth," he said.
Hew, 66, a butcher from Bukit Merah, added that the ARE factory extracted yytrium from monazite, one of the minerals found in amang (tin tailings), which were exported for use in high technology products.
In the production process, thorium hydroxide was produced. Both monazite and the waste contained thorium, which has a half-life of 13.9 billion years.
"Cancer-causing radon gas is released during decay," he added.
ARE, which started production in 1982, had constructed the facility in the Kledang Range after former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam declared a proposed dumpsite on a durian hill near settlements in Papan unsafe and ordered the company to look for an alternative site.
Countering Dr Mahathir's statement that "perhaps the public is not aware" of the waste, Hew said: "People involved in the series of protests, court case, and those whose lives were affected by ARE will never forget.
"These are the people who had suffered illnesses, braved clashes with the police during demonstrations, were arrested under the Internal Security Act, spent time away from work to show support during protests in Papan, Bukit Merah, Kuala Lumpur, and even in Tokyo."
Hew was arrested under the Internal Security Act during Operation Lalang in 1987.
Papan-Pusing-Siputeh Anti-Radioacative Waste Dump committee chairman Low Tong Hooi, 69, is also astounded by Dr Mahathir's statements.
"Why is it only now that he has admitted the radioactive dump is dangerous? In 1984, he maintained that the poorly constructed trenches for the waste in Papan in 1984 were safe," he said.
Low added that experts from America, Britain, Canada and Japan brought in with the help of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Consumer Association of Penang and the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia declared the factory and the dump unsafe but the Government preferred to heed another view.
Although the ARE factory ceased operations in 1994, the company still maintains an office in a Menglembu housing estate.
The Star has learnt that it was only nine years later, between 2003 and 2005, that a decommissioning and decontamination exercise was carried out at the factory.
ARE's general manager (administration) Kazuhiko Nishikawa said that about 250,000 tonnes of contaminated equipment, concrete structure, soil and materials were removed and transported by specially designed lorries approved by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board to an engineered cell called EC1 constructed at the 41ha site in the Kledang Range at the back of Papan.
"AELB has confirmed that the former factory site has been fully cleaned and is free from radioactive contamination. The lot was returned to the state government last year," he said in an interview.
Kazuhiko said the company was now carrying out a project to construct another engineered cell (EC2) next to EC1 to store the thorium hydroxide accumulated during ARE's operations between May 1982 and July 1984. The EC2 will decommission the use of the present storage facility and dispose of everything underground to a depth of 10m, similar to EC1.
Details of the project took three years to be worked out and had been reviewed by local and international experts and approved by AELB, he said.
"The project was designed in accordance with international and Malaysian standards and regulations set by agencies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the International Atomic Energy Agency, AELB and the Department of Occupational Safety and Health.
"It is also being monitored by the Perak Government and its consultant is the Malaysian Nuclear Agency," he said.
Kazuhiko said 500,000 tonnes of contaminated materials comprising debris from the concrete facility which would be demolished, 80,000 drums of wastes, and soil would be sent to EC2.
ARE has tasked US-based environmental and geotechnical engineering design and construction services specialist GeoSyntec Consultants Inc and its Malaysian subsidiary, GSM Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd, with the management and implementation of the project.
Work of the project commenced in January. AELB would supervise and inspect all works during construction and the Perak government, relevant state agencies, and the PARC would be briefed on its progress, said Kazuhiko.
GSM Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd director Anthony Goh said EC1 had been properly designed and constructed, based on its monitoring over the past six years.
Goh said frequent monitoring at the site had been carried out since 1992 and the results reported to the AELB.
"We did not find any increase in the background level of radiation and radon gas. Tests on ground and surface water and vegetation in the area did not suggest any contamination," said Goh.
He added that all those involved in EC2, scheduled for completion in 2013, would be given a dosimeter badge to check on contamination and would undergo medical check-ups every month.
"Mechanised handling of the drums and waste will be introduced when transferring into EC2. We will solidify and repack the waste if the drums are corroded," he said.
He also said the operation did not pose any public risk as there was no one living within 2km from the site.
"The dump will have a 200m buffer zone from its fence where no human activities would be allowed," he added.
Both the engineered cells would then be "capped" with a final single cover to ensure safe disposal and minimal impact to the environment, he added.
AELB will monitor the site for two years before it is handed to the state government for long-term management and maintenance to ensure security.
Kazuhiko added that ARE was bearing the cost for the project but declined to reveal the amount.
PARC's Hew said no one could ensure that the dump would not pose any danger in the long run. He hoped that future state governments would not forget about the dump and would continue to monitor it for the sake of the people.
Sunday June 13, 2010
THE people of Papan demonstrated for two months in the town and along the main road and even sent a petition written in blood before the Government decided to negotiate with them.
Papan-Pusing-Siputeh Anti-Radioacative Waste Dump committee chairman Low Tong Hooi, 69, remembers that the people of Papan and nearby towns were determined to fight Asian Rare Earth Sdn Bhd (ARE) because the issue involved the health of their future generation.
Papan resident Lau Chin Yau, 73, said almost everybody in town was involved in the demonstrations.
"Tents were set up along the main road and the people, including many from Batu Gajah, Pusing, Siputeh and Lahat, took turns to be there round the clock. We had our meals at the site as bags of rice and lots of biscuits were donated by supporters," she said.
Nine children suffering from various sicknesses including brain tumour and leukaemia were initially registered with the Perak Anti-Radioactive Committee. Five have since died.
Cheah Kok Leong is one of those alive. He receives RM150 each month from PARC chairman Hew Yoon Tat.
Cheah, 27, lives in Bukit Merah with his single mother Lam Lai Kuan, 68. He was born mentally retarded and almost blind, with cataracts in both eyes.
"I have to be at home with him to attend to his needs round the clock," said Lam who had worked as a contract labourer in ARE while pregnant with Cheah.
"We were not informed about the materials processed there. Some people even used the waste as fertiliser, claiming that they were advised to do so by factory employees."
A private practitioner, Dr T. Jayabalan, said he found 13 children from Bukit Merah suffering from leukaemia in 1984 and there was a high number of cancer cases among the 11,000 villagers.
Dr Jayabalan remembered that a survey he carried out in Bukit Merah showed the number of miscarriages in the village was high, adding that tests on a sample of 60 children revealed high levels of lead in their bloodstream.
However, his medical findings submitted in the villagers' 1985 suit in the Ipoh High Court were dismissed by the judge.
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