8:08AM Dec 20, 2012
Despite repeated boasts by Lynas that wastes from its rare earths refinery in Gebeng, Pahang, can be recycled into commercially safe products, an Australian nuclear radiologist cautions that such technology has yet to be proven successful.
Peter Karamoskas (left), a nuclear radiologist for 13 years and represents the Australian public on the Radiation Safety Committee of Australia, expressed his reservations on the Lynas recycling plan to New Matilda, an Australian news website.
The New Matilda report quotes Karamoskas as saying that the one million cubic-metres of Water Leach Purification (WLP) residue – the most critical waste produced by the refinery -generated within 10 years of operation, have to be mixed with five times the amount of aggregate to reduce its radioactive reading from 6Bq to 1Bq, the threshold for safe waste.
While he said that a similar process had been used in the Netherlands, the wastes produced there were far less radioactive, at close to 1Bq.
Karamoskas, who specialises in the health effects of radiation, pointed out that this method has never been used with materials with a WLP reading of 6Bq, and it is extremely unlikely to be a long-term solution from a safety or economic point of view.
“If this was all ready to go, they would be trumpeting it in the public arena… already it looks slippery. If this was possible, wouldn’t most countries around the world be doing it?” he is quoted as saying in the article.
The article is the second part of a special report on Lynas by Wendy Bacon, a professor and award-winning investigative journalist who sits on the board of the Pacific Media Centre, which is part of the School of Communication Studies at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand.
Bacon also cites a report prepared for Lynas by technical consultant Worley Parsons, which notes that the by-product production requires time and investment.
Even if recycling options work, Bacon said, Lynas would still be accountable for all dangerous wastes, which under a new Australian law for the disposal of radioactive wastes cannot be imported back into Australia.
Few buyers for recycled wastes as fertiliser
“Worley Parsons reported that the WLP residues contain relatively high levels of the nutrients phosphorus and magnesium, which have potential agricultural uses, particularly for palm oil plantations.
“However, it might be hard to find buyers for fertiliser based on recycled wastes. This option has not been mentioned recently,” Bacon wrote in her article.
“Instead, the current preferred option is to dilute the radioactive materials from 6Bq to 1Bq and bury it as roadfill and in other civil engineering works.”
Karamoskas argued that it was extremely unlikely that the road mix could be exported, other than to a country with “lax standards”, because it would breach international best practice standards.
Lynas has announced that the WLP residues from its refinery would be converted into a commercially safe product called“synthetic aggregate”, which would then be exported for use in civil engineering projects.
Yesterday the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board said therecycling plan proposed by Lynas has yet to be approved by the board because currently there were no wastes from its refinery from Gebeng which can be tested.
The Lynas Advanced Material Plant is now in its initial stage of production.