Tashny Sukumaran | June 15, 2011
The director-general of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board says Malaysia will be downgrading her standards if she followed Australian or American standards.
Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan was replying to Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh’s claim that the RM700 million Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng was making use of Malaysia’s “lax environmental laws”.
“We will be downgrading our standards if we follow Australian or American standards,” Raja Abdul Aziz told investors today at a luncheon organised by Malaysian Industrial Development Finance (MIDF).
He explained that in the US, such refineries would be licensed under mining and ore regulations, and do not need a licence from a radiation board.
In Australia, only materials exceeding 4,000,000 becquerels per kilogramme of radiation require licensing, whereas Malaysia followed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) cut-off of 1,000 becquerels per kilogramme.
Fuziah has accused Lynas of practising double standard in Malaysia and making use of “lax environmental laws” unlike those enforced in Australia.
She said Lynas could have applied to build its refinery by following standards set in China instead of the IAEA’s.
Raja Abdul Aziz also brought up the radiological impact assessment (RIA) of the plant, saying that it was incomplete and Lynas Corp would have to submit a second one.
The report, prepared by government agency Nuclear Malaysia, only covered proceedings up to this point but does not cover operations or decommissioning.
“The RIA is not good enough for the whole process. They have to submit another one ,” he said.
He underlined that he and AELB believed in safety first, and that he was not in favour of the Lynas plant.
“I don’t care if they don’t get a licence, the people’s safety is my priority.”
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.
Rare earth metals, crucial to high technology products such as Boeing planes, smart bombs, Apple’s iPhone and the Toyota Prius, have become increasingly vital.
Recommendation by month-end
Currently, China has a choke hold on rare earth, as it mines and refines at least 95% of the global supply of rare earth.
The Lynas rare earth plant has evoked fears of radiation contamination as residents desperately seek to stop the construction of the world’s largest refinery.
Widespread protest forced the government to bow to public pressure and halt work until the independent panel, which includes members from the IAEA, reviewed the safety of the Lynas plant.
The review panel 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.