Press release: Hasty issuance of Temporary Operating Licence to Lynas without proper consideration of public feedback smacks of recklessness
Tuesday, 07 February 2012 01:20pm
The Malaysian Bar deplores the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (“AELB”)’s almost immediate approval of a Temporary Operating Licence for Lynas on 30 January 2012, only four days after 1,123 comments had been submitted by members of the public during the period from 3 to 26 January 2012.
It beggars belief that AELB could have adequately and properly considered the 1,123 public comments within merely two working days. The only natural conclusion is that the whole public consultation process is a sham and charade, in contravention of one of the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”)’s report dated 30 June 2011, which the Government had pledged to comply with; namely, to inform interested and affected parties of the regulatory requirements, and to involve them. Implicit in this is that AELB would do so in an adequate and proper manner.
Furthermore, no Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) has been conducted for the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (“LAMP”) project, although such a requirement should, and would, be applicable. This prerequisite is set out in the amended List of Prescribed Activities, item 17 of which states, “Prescribed activity using radioactive material(s) and generating radioactive waste(s)”. The amendment to include such activities was effective on 20 June 2011, prior to the issuance of IAEA’s report dated 30 June 2011.
The Department of Environment describes the nature of, and reason for, an EIA as follows:
EIA is a study to identify, predict, evaluate and communicate information about the impacts on the environment of a proposed project and to detail out the mitigating measures prior to project approval and implementation . . . EIA is essentially a planning mechanism for preventing environmental problems due to an action. It ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in the project planning and design. Thus this will avoid costly mistakes in project implementation, either because of the environmental damages that are likely to arise during project implementation, or because of modifications that may be required subsequently in order to make the action environmentally acceptable. EIA when integrated into the existing planning and decision-making structure, provides additional information towards a better decision-making.
Hence, it begs the question why the Detailed EIA procedure was not complied with, thereby affecting the legality or otherwise of the decision made by AELB on 30 January 2012.
In its press release of 1 February 2012, AELB revealed that the plan and location of the permanent disposal facility (“PDF”) have yet to be identified. This omission alone should have constituted sufficient grounds for AELB to dismiss the application. The granting of a 10-month period for Lynas to provide the plan and location of the PDF borders on recklessness: by then, even if the terms of the licence remain unfulfilled and the licence is suspended or cancelled, substantial amounts of radioactive wastes would have been produced. These wastes would burden Malaysia for the imaginable future, as thorium, one of the wastes produced, has an inconceivably long half-life of over 14 billion years, ie it will take that much time for half the atoms in any sample of thorium to decay.
A catastrophe could befall the affected area, requiring a potentially vast sum of hundreds of millions of ringgit for any remedial action, as shown in the tragedy involving the Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah. In spire of this, the financial guarantee imposed on Lynas amounts to a mere USD50 million, which demonstrates AELB’s lack of concern.
The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Government to revoke or suspend AELB’s decision pending the outcome of a Detailed EIA, and to facilitate a meaningful consultation with all relevant stakeholders. We strongly urge the Government to take all necessary steps to protect its people and environment.
Lim Chee Wee
7 February 2012