by Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad
1. When X-Ray was first discovered it was used extensively in medicine. X-Rays were taken of the human body to detect diseases. Medical assistants and doctors operate X-Ray machines quite oblivious to the dangers from radiation.
2. After many years it was found that X-Rays cause certain diseases and affect fertility. Now when an X-Ray is taken, the radiologists stay outside the X-Ray room.
3. But we still use the X-Ray on patients because the effect of radiation is only felt when exposure is continuous or very frequent as with the staff in the X-Ray room. I was X-rayed many times during treatment for my heart and lungs.
4. I am against nuclear power plants because nuclear material once activated cannot be reversed. The nuclear wastes keep on radiating harmful rays for a million years. There is no really safe way to dispose them.
5. During the time when I was PM, we had problems with activated tin mining waste or amang, used for colour TV. We had to bury the waste in thick concrete deep in the ground. Now colour TV use plasma or LED and they produce practically no radiation.
6. However, there is now no more radiation at the site where the activated amang was buried. It is now safe to live on the site.
7. Chernobyl is near the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
8. Although the Chernobyl nuclear plant is still dangerous, Kiev is quite safe from the radiation emanating from the damaged nuclear power plant. The level of radiation is very low.
9. There was fear of Tokyo being affected by the accident to the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the radiation level in Tokyo is reported to be quite insignificant. Tokyo is safe.
10. Clearly the danger from radiation is dependant on the intensity of the rays and the duration of exposure. We are all exposed to some radiation from the sun, but it is not harmful.
11. The question is whether the Lynas plant for processing rare earth is a dangerous source of radiation. There are such plants in many countries where rare earth is processed for use in batteries and magnets. There have been no reports of radiation affecting the health of the workers or the people living in close proximity.
12. The proposed Lynas plant has been inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world authority on nuclear material. They have not reported that Lynas is a dangerous project.
13. But protests are still going on. The only conclusion one can make is that the protests are political. No matter how many investigations and studies are made the protest will go on. It is not about danger to health. It is about defeating the Government in the coming election.
14. We should be careful with radioactive material. But we should not allow political activists and non-genuine environmentalists deprive us of the economic benefits rare-earth offer through unsubstantiated scare stories.
15. Although I am still not in favour of nuclear power plants, I have nothing against the Lynas project. The Government should not be afraid to let the project to go ahead.