Free Malaysia Today – ‘There’s no safe radiation level’

Tashny Sukumaran | June 2, 2011

The IAEA standards are not based on what is safe but how great the benefit, said CAP after a meeting with the panel.

PUTRAJAYA: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today admitted there is no such thing as “safe” levels of radiation.

However , it told the Consumer Association of Penang that some radiation levels could be justified.

The nine-member IAEA panel is here to gauge the safety of the Lynas rare earth refinery in Kuantan.

CAP vice-president Mohideen Abdul Kader told reporters after meeting the IAEA panel that they had agreed to carry out a cost-benefit analysis before allowing the plant to start operations.

Mohideen also said that the IAEA’s radiation standards were merely an “international consensus”  as studies had not found a safe level of radiation.

He also cited a study from the National Academy of Science which said that one out of five workers would suffer from cancer if exposed to what the IAEA deemed an allowable radiation level.

“The panel said there should be sufficient justification for the project,” said Mohideen, “as their standards are not based on what is safe but how great the benefit.”

Earlier in the day, the panel met with the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca).

The panel gave no assurance that the radioactive waste produced by the refinery would be removed from the site, said Fomca research and policy executive Foon Weng Lian.

Fomca met with the panel to insist that no thorium – the radioactive element found in virtually all rare earth deposits – be stored at the plant being constructed in the Gebeng industrial zone in Kuantan.

“They said they will look into the best option for storage of the thorium. Even if it is being stored here, they will recycle as much as possible,” said Foon.

Main bone of contention

The storage of radioactive waste in Gebeng – which is surrounded by a population of 700,000 living within a 30km radius – has been the main bone of contention for local residents and environmentalists who oppose the plant being built.

The RM700-million refinery is being constructed by Australia’s Lynas Corp, which plans to ship rare earth ore mined from Western Australia’s Mount Weld to the Gebeng plant by September

Regulators Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) has also insisted that the Australian miner will not be allowed to store thorium onsite.

Lynas had earlier said that it had “perfectly good permission (from the government) to store it onsite, safely, forever” if plans to recycle its thorium waste for further industrial use did not find a commercial application.

The review panel that was in Kuantan earlier this week will present its recommendations to the government by the end of the month.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed has promised to make public the panel’s findings and recommendations in the interest of transparency.

However, Lynas does not expect its plans to be derailed regardless of the government review, and maintains that the plant is safe.

The plant anticipates revenue of RM8 billion per year from 2013 onwards.

Also read:

‘Cancer risk higher in Lynas vicinity’

Lynas plant: Panel to focus on health concerns

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