Saturday, June 11, 2011

A radioactive time-bomb ticks

IPOH: There is a time-bomb ticking in Perak in the form of 80,000 drums buried in a toxic radioactive dump site at the foothill of the Kledang Range behind the town of Papan.

And these 200-litre drums, according to DAP, pose a danger to the lives of Perakians.

DAP national vice-chairman M Kula Segaran told FMT that while the dump site is 3km from Bukit Merah, 4.8km from Papan and 8km from Ipoh, any leakage could easily pollute the underground water supply and adjacent rivers, putting the state at risk.

The Ipoh Barat MP said the federal government’s decision in 1984 to pick the Kledang Range as a dump site was shortsighted because the area was a converging point of several streams as well as the source of Sungai Johan.

The lifespan of the dump has been reported to be only about 20 years and there is a possibility that the drums may leak due to the corrosive nature of toxic waste.

A radioactive leak from this dump will not only affect Bukit Merah, Menglembu, Lahat, Papan but also the whole of Kinta Valley and lower Perak,” he warned.

About 20 years ago, Bukit Merah was the site of a rare earth plant owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemicals Asians Rare Earth (ARE) and is still undergoing a massive clean-up of toxic waste.

The residents of Bukit Merah’s new village were greatly affected by the radiation, with cases of birth defects and miscarriages. Eight leukemia cases were also reported.

After a 10-year legal battle with ARE, the villagers managed to shut down the plant.

Now, controversy surrounds the proposal to construct a new rare earth plant by Australian company Lynas in Kuantan.

Kulasegaran said the federal government must learn from the incident in Bukit Merah and reject the proposed Lynas plant before another tragedy occurs.

CAP questions rationality

Meanwhile, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) in its book titled “Wasted Lives (Radioactive Poisoning in Bukit Merah)” – made available to FMT – had questioned the rationality in the Perak government storing this toxic waste for future use as nuclear fuel.

CAP said this was a wrong decision that would affect not only the health of Perakians but also the environment.

The association also punched holes in Puspati’s (the Tun Ismail Atomic Research Centre) assumption that the technology for thorium-cycle reactors would be viable in the near future when the supply of uranium runs out.

CAP pointed out that thorium cannot be used directly as nuclear fuel but must first be converted in a time-consuming and costly process to uranium 232.

It might take between 20 and 60 years for a reactor to convert enough thorium to fuel another reactor.

Besides, CAP added, the cost factor would be mind-boggling.

The consumer body said instead of taking responsibility for thorium toxic waste, the government should have opted for the better option of exporting the radioactive waste together with the rare earth.

CAP also warned that the cost of cleaning up the dump site every 20 years would escalate as the toxicity of thorium waste had a very long lifespan.

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