Free Malaysia Today – ‘No confidence in Lynas safety review’

Tashny Sukumaran | June 20, 2011

The IAEA report on the Lynas Corp is bound to be slanted and the human factor will not be taken into account, says Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh.

KUALA LUMPUR: Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh is already second guessing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on the Lynas Corp’s rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang.

She said she has no confidence in the independent panel’s safety review of the RM300 million Lynas Corp rare earth refinery .

“I can imagine the outcome will contain acknowledgement of safety concerns, but also on how this refinery can be made safe,” said Fuziah.

“They will recommend special procedures to be complied with involving transport, occupational health, monitoring and groundwater – but how can we be sure of them?

“How can we monitor daily? The risks of human error are too high,” she said, pointing out that the half-life of thorium was 14 billion years.

The review panel will present its recommendations to the government by the end of the month.

She also underlined how Gebeng was a highly unsuitable choice for the plant, as most refineries in the world were located in arid, unpopulated environments while Gebeng had residents within a 2km area and was humid.

“It’s totally opposite to what’s ideal, and therefore it will be impossible to comply.”

Residents will protest

Fuziah promised that if the report from the panel, which includes members of the IAEA, was as she anticipated, she will continue to bring the issue to a higher level and exert pressure on authorities.

“The residents of Balok have made up their minds to stand against the plant,” said Fuziah.

“All sorts of protests (will be held) – including a referendum promising that if the government doesn’t listen, it will translate to votes.”

Fuziah also lashed back at Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, director-general of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board, who had said that Malaysia would be downgrading its standards if it followed Australian or American standards.

“He is pre-empting the panel report, I think,” she said.

Raja Abdul Aziz had said last week that in the US, rare earth refineries would be licensed under mining and ore regulations, and would 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 IAEA’s cut-off of 1,000 becquerels per kilogramme.

Fuziah had accused Lynas of practising double standard in Malaysia and making use of “lax environmental laws” unlike those enforced in Australia.

She said Lynas had applied to build its refinery using standards set in China instead of the IAEA’s.

“Yes, 1,000 becquerels per kilogramme is the international standard. That’s equal to 1 becquerel per gram. My question is, why is it in the radiological impact assessment (RIA) of the plant, it says waste for Lynas is 61 becquerels per gram? They’re using Chinese standards, because there the limit is 74 becquerels per gram.”

She also questioned why the RIA had been out since June 2010 but only made available in late May 2011.

“The fact that the director-general is only making the statement now shows that he isn’t aware of what’s happening.”

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 Gebeng.

Confident Lynas

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.

The 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 reviews the safety of the Lynas plant.

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.

Currently, China has a choke hold on rare earth, as it mines and refines at least 95% of the global supply of rare earth.

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