Eco group claims Lynas given cursory EIA

Posted on May 23, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

-The Malaysian Insider-
By Shannon Teoh
May 23, 2011

The Lynas plant is scheduled to begin operations in September. — file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — An environmental group has accused Pahang state authorities of rushing the approval of the controversial RM700 rare earth plant being constructed in Kuantan.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said that the Pahang Department of Environment (DoE) was far too swift in approving what the group called a badly prepared environmental impact assessment (EIA) report into the project.

“The Lynas project was fast-tracked for approval by the Pahang State DoE. The DoE received the PEIA on 21st January 2008 and approved it in early February.

“For such a complex project involving radiation hazards with a very vague waste management, storage and disposal proposal, the speedy approval raises serious questions,” SAM president S. M. Mohamed Idris said today.

Australian miner Lynas Corp is facing mounting opposition from residents and environmentalists who fear a repeat of the radiation pollution from a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh.

The Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Perak has been linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukaemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal.

Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the plant is still the subject of a massive RM300 million cleanup exercise.

In recent weeks, green groups here and in Australia have been calling for the project to be nixed ahead of a scheduled September start, citing Lynas’s opaque plans on waste storage and transport management across 3,000km from the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia to the refinery in the Gebeng industrial zone.

SAM also questioned how the PEIA could be approved without radiation and health concerns being addressed beforehand.

“When the PEIA was submitted and approved, the RIA (radiation impact assessment) was still in the process of being written by the MNA (Malaysian Nuclear Agency) for submission to the AELB (Atomic Energy Licensing Board).

“How could the PEIA recommend the Build Option when the radiation safety issues have not been considered? How could the state DoE have approved the PEIA in such haste?” Mohamed Idris questioned.

The AELB, which is in charge of licensing any activity that is considered a potential source of radioactive pollution, has so far insisted that no approval has yet been given to Lynas to begin operations.

The government was also forced to put the project on ice last month pending an ongoing month-long review by an independent panel of experts.

The term preliminary EIA is somewhat misleading as no further report is required. The project falls outside those that require a detailed EIA which are subject to public review.

Mohamed Idris added that the approval of an RIA independent of the EIA would set a dangerous precedent.

“Under Malaysia’s environmental laws, the DoE is the primary co-ordinating authority on issues related to the environment and its impact on the well being of its citizens.

“The MNA and AELB are promoters of nuclear technology and this may give rise to conflicts of interests as MNA is the consultant that wrote the RIA for Lynas. Will DoE have to relegate its role to the AELB in nuclear matters and issues related to radiation and its impacts?” he asked.

He added that while the PEIA was publicly available on the DoE website, the RIA process “remains completely unknown and uncharted territory.”

Although the government review is still ongoing, Lynas expects no delay to its plans to begin operations in September as it maintains the plant is safe.

It is anticipating a windfall of RM8 billion a year from 2013 onwards from the rare earth metals that are crucial to the manufacture of high-technology products such as smartphones, hybrid cars and bombs.

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