Lynas not just about safety
I know of someone who has a fear of flying. He would, however, quite happily jump onto his motorcycle and ride around the countryside of Essex in England despite statistical evidence suggesting he is a few thousand times more likely to die in a road accident than he would in an air accident.
Over the many years of his life, his friends and family have presented him with statistical and scientific evidence on the safety of air travel.
Nevertheless, this intelligent, well-educated man would not change his mind, and would rather, in his own words, "eat burning coal than board an aircraft". In Malaysia, the government have granted Lynas permission to build and operate a rare earth plant in Gebeng.
We have the prime minister pumping out the message that this project is safe, and supporters like S Param arguing for it in the name of science and knowledge.
First of all, as an engineer, I know that no system is infallible, especially one of this size and complexity. An accident is, by definition, an unexpected event, it is not something that science or engineering could have predicted and design against - you can never design against the unknown.
Fukushima and Three Mile Island are perfect testaments to this unfortunate reality.
Debates on the safety of Lynas have, however, overtaken and masked a more important point - the local population is simply uncomfortable with the risks associated with this plant, however low or insignificant they might be.
You could argue that their fear is irrational and without scientific basis. But one cannot ignore a simple, overriding fact: They do not want it in Gebeng, and this factor alone must hold supreme in any decision to build a plant in their backyards.
To force Lynas on the people living near the plant is like is forcing my aviophobic friend to take a 22- hour flight from London to Australia against his will.
The poor man would probably live in fear for the duration of the flight, even though to the rest of us it might seem an irrational and unfounded reaction to a scientifically and statistically proven mode of travel.
I believe you would agree that it would be cruel and inhumane to subject a fellow human being to this kind of torment.
Similarly, it would be inhumane to compel the people living near Lynas to suffer the same kind of mental torture for many years and over many generations!
My point is quite simple: The people of Malaysia, especially the local population of Gebeng, do not want Lynas.
The fact that so-called experts have adjudged that Lynas is low risk is, quite frankly, irrelevant. It appears that the prime minister have listened to his advisers and accepted their arguments on the matter of safety and risks associated with Lynas.
Anything less is a travesty. The rest of Malaysia must also take note of the government's handling of this matter.
Lynas is not about research or knowledge - it is about business and money.
I suggest it is more appropriate for us to consider a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
"There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics."
In the context of Lynas, the people of Malaysia are today fighting the three last immoralities mentioned by Gandhi.