Posted: 18 Feb 2012 03:57 AM PST
February 18, 2012
Eight men — a welder, a shoemaker, a general worker, a pensioner, a barber, a tractor driver, a crane-operator and a cancer victim who was to die shortly — sued Asian Rare Earth in 1985 on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other residents of Bukit Merah and the environs in Perak. They wanted to shut down this rare earth plant in their village near Ipoh because its radioactive waste was endangering their lives.
When the Mitsubishi joint venture plant opened over 1982, the villagers soon began complaining of the factory's stinging smoke and bad smell which made them choke and cry. Worse was to come. Their health began failing, indicated not only by frequent bouts of coughs and colds, but a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning.
For the first time in Malaysian legal history, an entire community has risen to act over an environmental issue, to protect their health and environment from radioactive pollution.
Below is the chronology of what happened when a radioactive rare earth plant was set up in Bukit Merah. Today, about 30 years later, the Government is allowing a new rare earth plant to be set up by Lynas in Gebeng, Kuantan. This new project should be scrapped if the Malaysian Government puts the health of Malaysians before profits.
23 December 1993: The Supreme Court overturned the High Court decision on 2 grounds. The Court was of the opinion that ARE's experts were more believable in terms of the results of the tests conducted by them showing that radiation was within permissible levels. Secondly, the Supreme Court said that the residents should have gone back to the AELB to ask that it revoke ARE's licence, because AELB has the power to do so under the Atomic Energy Licensing Act. The Court said: "..it is up to the residents to convince the licensing authority that the operation of the factory is not in the public interest because of the danger of radiation to their health".
Despite the success of ARE in their appeal, the company later stopped operations and began cleaning up, due to public pressure both nationally and internationally.
19 January 1994: ARE announced the closure of its Bukit Merah plant.
A decommissioning and decontamination exercise started in 2003 and 2005.
13 June 2010 : Former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad disagreed with the proposal for Malaysia to build nuclear power plants 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."
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).
The ongoing cleanup of the 30-year-old problem is estimated to cost a massive RM300 million.
March 2011 : The New York Times reported that as many as 2,500 workers are rushing to complete a US$230 million plant in Gebeng, near Kuantan, that will refine slightly radioactive ore from Australia.
Source: Consumers Association Of Penang
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