Few weeks after starting my career as an assistant lecturer (the equivalent of tutor), the head of the department asked me to join a trip to the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) site in Bukit Merah, Ipoh. I was excited by the visit. I was a fresh chemical engineering graduate with high enthusiasm to change the world. So, along with PUSPATI (now Nuklear Malaysia) we embarked on a research program on the extraction of Uranium and Thorium from mining waste. I do not remember the outcomes of the research as it was completed when I was abroad pursuing my graduate qualifications. In those days, as a young graduate, I’d thought that the world was similar to what I saw in textbooks – everybody is concern about safety, environmental protection and the likes – only later that I realized that it was not that true.
The argument presented in the report published by Malaysian Insider “Australia not as competitive as Malaysia, says Lynas” was not convincing. Gebeng is a chemical industry cluster with emphasis on petrochemicals. Recall that the idea of clustering of industry followed the concept of manufacturing ++ introduced by the Second Industrial Master Plan published in 1996 that listed 8 clusters of industries to be developed throughout Malaysia. Yes, there are other chemicals manufactured in Gebeng, but they were either among plants that had been there before the clustering was advocated, or supporting chemical plants to facilitate petrochemicals activities. To make the cluster concept works, further downstream activities from major products generated by existing plants should be developed. Spin-offs businesses to support services and maintenance should be encouraged to flourish. And I think, Lynas proposal does not fall into one of them.
I remember a quote from a biotechnology professor during my graduate study in UK, he said, “the European has an interesting attitude towards Biotechnology, especially on the use of genetically modified organism (GMO) – it is called NIMBY (not in my back yard).” Not only that it is interesting, it is also a smart one, actually. That was why, it took a while before genetically modified corns, wheat etc were used although the strains and the associated technology had been around for quite some time prior. The same attitude also applies to nuclear and radioactive activities. Perhaps Lynas is doing the same with the proposed Rare Earth Plant in Kuantan. It is good and the world needs it, but NIMBY, not in Australia. Perhaps send it to Malaysia.
In as much as I appreciate quick decisions and responses, I am somewhat puzzled by some of our actions when dealing with risky technologies. The release of genetically modified mosquito’s to the environment that was later called off, was one example. It was totally contrary to my preaching in classrooms on the need to be more conservative in judgment when it comes to the matter of public safety. We really need to weigh the benefits versus the risk associated to it carefully. After all, it is people’s life and their well-being we are dealing with. As I have repeated many times, “One fatality in a million is a very small number and has been generally regarded by the world as an acceptable risk, however, I’m sure that our judgment would change if that one person is confirmed to be either you or somebody that you love dearly such as your wife and kids, parents, friends etc.”
Coming back to the Lynas issue, my final question is that, “are we really that desperate ?”. And my conclusion is ,… SAY NO TO LYNAS.
– Written in DP1 – During Industrial Hygiene Examination.