Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Are we ready for mutant fish?

Did you know that they are in the process of building another rare earth refinery in Kuantan, Pahang? What is rare earth, and should we be concerned? Rare earths are elements such as Neodymium that are used to produce electronics, energy saving light bulbs up to your so called 'green' hybrid cars that uses up to 12 to 15 kilos of that stuff. Should we be concerned when they start doing the refinery process here? Definitely. The refinery process produces tons of radioactive waste that they say will be stored in sealed tanks until they can be carted away - but as I quote NY Times '...carted to where? That is the open question.'

Our last refinery operated by Mitsubishi Chemical in Bukit Merah is still the site of the largest radiation cleanup in the rare earth industry (click the link above). Contaminated material that has seeped 25 feet into the ground is still in the process of being cleaned up even after the factory has been closed since 1992. Radioactive material. Have we not learnt our lesson yet?

Taking a look at the corporation's website, you will notice how they deceptively word their company profile. They talk about sustainable development, and a greener environment, but what it really means is that they can sustain the workforce from the generous profits that they will no doubt reap from the industries surging demand for rare earth, and of course their edge is that their materials create products that are eco-friendly, but at what cost?

They estimate that once the facility is up and running they will be able to meet a third of global demand for rare earth, that has until now been dominated by China. So what are their plans to dispose of the radioactive waste? They will mix it with lime, into concrete blocks called 'tetrapods' to build artificial reefs for fish at sea. That according to them will 'comply with environment, and community standards.' But what does that mean? Environment standards are loosely based because there is no governing body that regulates the disposal of this radioactive waste, until of course something catastrophic happens and other agencies step in, and you talk about community standards? The residents are all but too happy to be receiving fat paychecks and an increased quality of life without thinking too much about the after effects of radiation poisoning at their own backyards - so much for community standards.

In a couple years when you catch something weird on your fishing trip, don't say you haven't been warned.