By Yow Hong Chieh
KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has called for the Lynas rare earths plant to be scrapped in the absence of evidence that the plant will be “totally fail-safe”.MMA president Dr Mary Suma Cardosa said there were still many unresolved questions concerning the safety and implementation of the Gebeng plant despite assurances by both Lynas and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“We remain deeply concerned that public safety and health concerns have not been adequately met and could not be guaranteed, by whatever reassurances, that have been given,” she said in a statement today.
Dr Cardosa pointed out that neither the long-term waste management nor the possible contamination of surface water and atmosphere by radioactive waste material were addressed in the radiological impact assessment (RIA) report.
She said the open-air waste storage model mooted for the plant would allow radioactive particles to “dust the environment”, increasing the chance of inhalation by the surrounding community.
“The RIA did not include the assessment on internal radiation, which is very crucial as radioactive waste products are mainly alpha emitters,” she said.
External alpha radiation is generally not harmful but alpha particles can cause cellular damage and increase the likelihood of cancer if inhaled or ingested.
Dr Cardosa said these omissions from the report were worrying in light of allegations by The New York Times that the construction and design of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) may have serious flaws.
Current regulatory standards are not tailored to monitor waste containing radioactive elements, which she said was hinted at in the IAEA report, she added.
Pressure from local residents and environmentalists strongly opposed to Lynas’s Gebeng plant forced the government to order a month-long review led by the IAEA that concluded on June 28.
Lynas expects to meet by year-end all 11 conditions put forth by the IAEA review panel and for them to be adopted by Putrajaya.
The Australian mining giant has said that its plant — which will extract rare earth metals crucial for high-technology products like smartphones, hybrid cars and wind turbines — will create a RM4 billion multiplier effect annually and 350 jobs for skilled workers.
Although reports say the plant may earn RM8 billion for Lynas, critics have questioned the real economic benefit of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break Lynas will enjoy due to its pioneer status.