This article was originally published at Malaysiakini : https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/563264
INVESTIGATIVE | Bukit Ketam, located around 35km from Kuantan town, was an unassuming place until recently when Lynas Malaysia announced it will be building its permanent disposal facility (PDF) there to store toxic waste from its factory near Kuantan port.
While much attention was on the rare earth firm, what is taking shape at Bukit Ketam is much bigger than Lynas, and a firm linked to Pahang royalty has been tasked to set the plan in motion.
A total of 202.35 hectares, the size of 283 football fields, has been carved out of the Bukit Kuantan permanent forest reserve, to be converted into a Multi-Category Industrial Scheduled Waste Disposal Site (MCISWDS).
Lynas' PDF will only occupy 58.25 hectares or 29 percent of the overall site.
Gading Senggara Sdn Bhd (GSSB), a private firm linked to Pahang royalty, will be the contractor of the MCISWDS. Likewise, Lynas appointed the same company to build its PDF there.
GSSB, founded in July 2012 as Puncak Trillium Sdn Bhd, changed to its current name in December 2014.
A Malaysiakini check on the firm with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) revealed that the majority shareholder, with a 50 percent stake, is Pahang Regent Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah.
The second-largest shareholder is Gading Group chief executive officer Johari Harun, who is also the Bentong Umno vice-chief. He controls a 40 percent stake.
The remaining 10 percent is held by one Mohd Firdaus Redzuan. The company information is based on records it submitted to the CCM as of Oct 5, 2020.
The company's directors are Johari, Firdaus, and one Ahmad Radzi Zaini.
The mega-contract is another project that the people of Kuantan have to deal with as the town struggles to balance the environment and industry over the last decade.
The path from town to the future MCISWDS site is flanked by oil palm plantations with road tainted with red dirt, a reminder of the rampant bauxite mining in 2015 that left parts of Kuantan covered in red dust.
The mining frenzy, which saw oil palm smallholders giving up their land for mining in exchange for stacks of cash, eventually forced the federal government to intervene by imposing a moratorium on exports from the Kuantan port.
The MCISWDS itself was a byproduct of environmentalists protesting against Lynas' Advanced Material Plant in Gebeng, Kuantan since 2010.
Its processing of rare earth material at the facility produces toxic waste, including radioactive Water Leach Purification (WLP) residue.
While the waste has low radioactivity, its build-up over the years raised concerns.
The previous Pakatan Harapan government, which as the opposition had supported protests against the facility, unsuccessfully tried to get the waste sent back to Mt Weld in Western Australia, where the original rare earth was mined from.
However, Lynas Malaysia agreed, as part of its new licensing condition, to move its cracking and leaching operations, which produces the radioactive waste, back to Western Australia.
The waste already produced here since 2012 remains a problem and this is where the PDF comes in.
But the MCISWDS project is significantly larger than Lynas' PDF and it is not yet clear what other forms of waste will be stored at the facility.
A waste dumpsite until 2119
The MCISWDS in Pahang will hug the state's border with Terengganu. Adjacent to the site, on the Terengganu site of the border, is a vast durian plantation.
Information on the MCISWDS is still limited but some details can be gleaned from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on Lynas' PDF, located within the site.
According to the EIA, the Pahang government, Kuantan Municipal Council, Land Office, Pahang Forestry Department, Pahang Public Works Department, Terengganu government, Syarikat Air Terengganu, and Kemaman Municipal Council have no objections to the Lynas PDF.
Supporting documents also revealed that the Pahang government already excised the MCISWDS area from the Bukit Kuantan Forest Reserve, which was gazetted as a permanent forest reserve since 1962.
The forest in the project site will be felled before construction begins.
Under Section 13 of the National Forestry Act 1984, the "state authority" can excise a permanent forest reserve by publishing a gazette specifying the extent of such land and a fixed date.
The interpretations of Acts 1948 and 1967 defines "state authority" as the ruler of a state.
The accompanying land grant in the EIA showed the site is now listed for industrial use for a period of 99 years - from Aug 14, 2020 until Aug 13, 2119.
While the waste, at least for Lynas, will be stored there permanently, the EIA said the site could still be converted into a public recreational park in the future.
According to the Lynas PDF project implementation timeline, the land clearing was scheduled to start in the middle of this month.
GSSB had applied to the Pahang Forestry Department for the land clearing in October 2020.
The Pahang Forestry Department has informed the Department of Environment last November that it did not have any objections, as long as GSSB left the forest surrounding the project site untouched.
Malaysiakini has contacted GSSB for a response and requested further information about the MCISWDS project.