On thorium and Lynas — Dr Chan Chee Khoon

MARCH 27 (TMI) — The Sun declined to publish my response (below) to Dr Looi Hoong Wah’s earlier letter. In the interest of reasoned exchanges, I hope this response to Dr Looi’s latest letter sees the light of day.

In this letter, Dr Looi’s cites the Argonne National Lab’s fact sheet on thorium to argue that only a miniscule portion of thorium-232 which is ingested via food or water is absorbed into the bloodstream, of which only 4 per cent gets deposited in the liver where it is retained with a biological half-life of 700 days.

He neglects to mention that thorium-232 is much more readily absorbed into the human body via an inhalation route, and furthermore that 70 per cent of the amount entering the bloodstream gets deposited in bone where it is retained with a biological half-life of about 22 years, all that while irradiating the much more radio-sensitive blood-forming tissues there with highly mutagenic alpha-particles (20 times more damaging to cellular genetic material than beta or gamma radiation).

Could this be the reason for the cluster of childhood leukaemias observed among the children of Bukit Merah? (Recall also the inverse square law — the intensity of radiation from a radioactive particle a metre away from a human body increases a trillion-fold when that same particle sits at micron-level distances on the body’s cells and tissues.)

Dr Looi considers that inhalation exposures to thorium-containing dust is solely an occupational problem which is not relevant to the greater Kuantan-Kemaman community. Let’s recall that the ARE rare earths refinery at Bukit Merah, like LAMP, had no long-term waste management plan. Ad hoc arrangements, including the aborted Papan dump site, eventually led to a situation of indiscriminate, clandestine dumping of radioactive thorium-cake wastes at Lahat, Menglembu, Pengkalan, Jelapang, Buntong, Simpang Pulai, among other locations.Read more

2 thoughts on “On thorium and Lynas — Dr Chan Chee Khoon

  1. If we do not take risk, we will never progress.
    The major developed economies did not stop their rare earth industries and mining. There were forced to close because the chinese undercut them. After 20 years, they will re-start mining operations for rare earth again, but finding the experts and experience workers are difficult after 2 decades.

    Less people were killed due to nuclear power (including Fukushima) than in the coal mining industry. Hundreds of thousands have died mining coal and are still dying today as seen in new Zealand and China.

    Even today, the west are still spending billions on nuclear power research and some ideas have been given on how to make this safer.

    The waste from Lynas-Thorium, could be used to power future thorium based nuclear power plant. I suggest the government gives grants for this research. This will in some ways, attract our best brains into this field instead of flying away to another country.

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