Malaysia Should not be Left with Lynas’ Toxic Radioactive Waste
for the sake of Foreign Direct Investment
We, the undersigned civil society groups and Rakyat are deeply concerned that Malaysia is creating a second cancer-causing radioactive toxic legacy by Australia’s Lynas Corporation – at least 100 times bigger than that from Mitsubishi’s Asian Rare Earth in Bukit Merah. This is the second Japanese sponsored toxic legacy for Malaysia, facilitated by the ousted kleptocratic Najib Government, with the blessing of our Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Pakatan Harapan (PH) Cabinet.
We reiterate our strong position and appeal in our earlier memorandum to Tun and his Cabinet on Lynas dated 10th June 2019 to shut down Lynas immediately. 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 neither the intention nor financial means to store its toxic radioactive waste in a safe permanent disposal facility (PDF) away from its current flood and fire-prone peat mangrove swamp environment. 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-leached purification stream are contaminated with radionuclides at 1952ppm of long-live thorium and 29ppm of uranium respectively; toxic heavy metals – 490ppm lead, 111ppm nickel, 795 ppm chromium, 8ppm cadmium and 2890ppm manganese. Other hazardous contaminants are 13 ppm 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. Data 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.
These contaminants are toxic substances that will bio-accumulate over a lifetime 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 as 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 also bear the tarnished reputation as a convenient 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.
Malaysians have been bullied by the Australian High Commissioner and Lynas; and betrayed by our own Government. 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 and those ministers who have backed Lynas instead of fulfilling their 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.
Once again, we appeal and call on the Pakatan Harapan Government to:
· enforce the law and uphold MESTECC’s decisions from December 2018 by suspending Lynas’ waste storage licences immediately to prevent further generation of toxic radioactive waste since Australia has refused to accept this waste and Lynas has yet to manage its scheduled waste in accordance with Malaysian law. Lynas’ current inadequate waste storage facility at the back of 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 in Malaysia by requiring Lynas to clean up the contamination and to prevent further environmental pollution in the interest of public health;
· independently carry out a full and comprehensive health risk assessment study of the implication of Malaysia ending up with the total quantity of Lynas’ wastes, especially its toxic thorium waste, immediately and before any further decision on licence renewal is made since this study should have been done even before Lynas is given its construction permit back in 2009;
· to better understand the reputational risk to our agricultural produce from potential contamination of rare earth and other toxic elements;
· to study legacy and contamination site 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 property, businesses and sending hundreds of thousands of our best students to further their education in Australia. Many have stayed in Australia to contribute positively to the Australian economy and industries. Malaysians have held Australia in high regard and yet the Australian High Commissioner continues to back Lynas to undermine efforts in Malaysia to push for law enforcement to improve our environmental governance, failing to heed its own Western Australian Government’s preference for Lynas to process its ore locally.
We call on the Australian Government to:
· cease exerting diplomatic pressure on Malaysia to accept Lynas’ radioactive toxic 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 requiring that Lynas adhere to its licence conditions and undertakings in the interest of Malaysian health and well being regardless of weaknesses of technical capability and law enforcement by the Malaysian Government.
We would like to remind the High Commissioner of the message from a 2011 letter by then Foreign Minister 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.
We also appeal and call on the Japanese Government 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 expenses. The loan will be repaid through the hard work of Malaysian, in accordance with the loan terms. Our country and our people should not be made scapegoats of Japan’s geopolitical conflict with China;
· recognise that for as long as Lynas’ radioactive waste remains in Malaysia; its rare earth supply chain is tainted with no social licence to operate and cannot be considered green and clean. That will have reputational implication for any Japanese product made with Lynas’ rare earth elements, especially when China has since 2011 imposed stringent legal limits on its rare earth industry which Lynas would not be able to meet if it uses the same poor standard as it has done here.
Using geopolitical pressure to force Malaysia to accept Lynas’ radioactive waste for the private profit of an Australian company is immoral and politically corrupt. It is essentially subjecting citizens of a debt-ridden developing country to the double injustice of the 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 technologies 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;
· ensuring that technical solutions for tackling climate change do not lead to developing countries copping double climate injustice such as that resulting from Lynas; 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.