Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Will Gebeng Make History?

Last Sunday I asked a friend who said he'd be driving to Kuantan to pass time. He likes driving to nowhere and stopping at small towns to check out the popular food they sell. I jokingly asked him to check out Gebeng for me. He asked, "Gebeng what?" Obviously he wasn't following the news or he did only when I mentioned Lynas did the two names connect. I said I'd like to know if Gebeng is polluted with radioactive waste. Of course it was a joke. Lynas hasn't even started operating, but if the temporary operating licence issued by the Atomic Energy Licensing Authority is not revoked, residents, businesses and visitors to Gebeng will become involved in what may be the country's most lethal zone insofar as industrial pollution is concerned, and nobody is able to say with any confidence, backed by authoritative knowledge, that what Lynas brings to Gebeng is only employment opportunities.

I googled Gebeng to know where this famous location is. It is on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia north of Kuantan some 45 minutes drive or 60km away. Now to the south of Kuantan some 120km away is the Pekan town. Malaysians who are politically conscious will know that Pekan is the parliamentary constituency of the prime minister Najib Razak. He ought to be aware of trouble brewing in his backyard and his home state, Pahang. About 60km north of Gebeng is the very popular tourist destination, Cherating Club Med. I am not about to be a scaremonger but people must be aware how very close this hot potato is to the places I mentioned. I am puzzled why factory owners in Gebeng, especially those foreign owned, are keeping quiet over their new neighbor, or they did but wasn't publicised. I am also puzzled why residents nearby didn't exercise their anxieties via peaceful protests. I am surprised why hotel operators are sitting oblivious to the potential harm Lynas can do to its industry. Perhaps everybody is waiting for trouble to take place before acting.

Many of us remember Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island and recently Fukushima where spillage and leakage of nuclear radioactive wastes create contamination of food, caused deformities in foetus, early death and sharp rise in cancers. It is no surprise that such news have created anxieties and fueled opposition to any construction of plants that involves processing or creation of radioactive materials. While Gebeng may be a much smaller risk but it still pose risks nonetheless. Should Lynas be allowed to operate as licensed several spillover effects may occur, among them:

1. Residents moving out of Gebeng and its vicinity
2. Tourism will be affected
3. Disruption of economic activities
4. Property devaluation

It is unwise to push through approving the Lynas operation. The government may have to pay a penalty for revoking the permit but doing so save Gebeng and the nation. Lynas is a grave mistake the government made, possibly out of greed.

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