Monday 30 May 2011

Expert warns that Kuantan residents will be ‘lab rats’

KUANTAN, May 29 — A public health scientist today warned residents that the RM700 million rare earth refinery being built here would effectively make “lab rats” of the 700,000 population.

Citing reports on various nuclear incidents including the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that crippled the Soviet economy, Dr Chan Chee Khoon said experts could not agree on the effects of low-level radiation.

“There is no clear consensus among experts on the risks of low-level exposure,” the epidemiologist said at a meeting with stakeholders. “You don’t want to be the first lab rats to test this.”

The controversial rare earth plant being built by Australian miner Lynas Corp has raised fears of a repeat of the radiation pollution from a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh.

The Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Perak has been linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal.

Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the plant is still the subject of a RM300 million cleanup.
Putrajaya bowed to public pressure in Kuantan and last month put on ice the plant being built by Lynas Corp, pending a month-long review by international experts.

The meeting this evening between various anti-Lynas groups was to work out strategies before a series of meetings with the panel this week, which they see as their best chance to scupper Lynas’s plans.

Dr Chan, a consultant at Universiti Malaya’s medical faculty, said Lynas’s claims of low-level radiation from its operations was not enough.

“It does not take into account ‘internal emitters’ due to inhaling or ingesting radioactive particles,” he said. “Internal emitters cause a trillion times the radiation of a particle that is one metre away from you.”

Lynas expects no delay to its plans to begin operations in September as it maintains the plant is safe.

It is anticipating a windfall of RM8 billion a year from 2013 onwards from the rare earth metals crucial to the manufacture of high-technology products such as smartphones, hybrid cars and bombs.

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