Panel: Waste won’t be 100% radiation-free

Posted on June 1, 2011. Filed under: Pollution |

The international expert panel reviewing the controversial Lynas rare earth plant has conceded that the waste produced from the plant cannot be 100 percent radiation-free.

Based on Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) notes made at a panel hearing yesterday, a panelist said the plant is “very unlikely” to achieve zero thorium or uranium – both radioactive elements – in the waste produced.

This was in response to the MMA delegation’s question on the veracity of Lynas’ claims that the neutralised underflow residue (magnesium rich gypsum) and fuel gas desulphurisation residue (synthetic gypsum) have zero thorium or uranium.

To another question posed by MMA, a panelist replied that it is impossible to ensure that the radioactive content of the two elements would be 100 percent neutralised.

“There are processes to reduce the radioactive content – we hope for 99 percent efficiency but it will never be 100 percent,” said the panelist, according to the MMA report.

During the closed-door hearing, the MMA delegation also pointed out that numerous studies have shown that rare earth refineries in China, the US and Malaysia have had a negative impact on the environment.

azlanAsked if the panel could furnish any evidence of a ‘safe’ rare earth refinery, the reply was that no such data was available.

“It is not easy to do a study on the impact of health from a rare earth plant as it requires a large number of samples and a long duration of study to demonstrate statistically significant results,” a panelist said.

“So, those available results online need to be interpreted with caution as they may be biased. We have examples of safe uranium plants, (we) will email (it) to Pahang MMA later.”

The MMA report does not specify the individuals behind the question and replies, but says that its delegation comprised Pahang chapter chairperson Dr Ailin Razali, secretary Dr Chong Jen Lim and member Dr Carmen Chew.

The panelists comprising experts from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are Tero Varjoranta, Horst Monken Fernandes, Jan van der Steen, Hanna Kajander and Leo M Lowe.

They are part of a nine-member team, here on a five-day fact-finding mission on the government’s invitation following public concern over the project.

After meeting stakeholders and concluding its investigations , the panel will submit its recommendations to the federal government.

Panel mum on waste management

Malaysiakini obtained a copy of the MMA report, signed by Chong. Some questions from MMA and replies from the panel follow. These have been edited for clarity.

Question: To ensure safety of this plant, the regular monitoring and enforcement of law and regulations are crucial, however, in developing countries, all these might be not as good as developed countries.

Answer: We agree with that. The regulatory board plays a very important role in terms of monitoring the safety of the plant. If needed, overseas experts should be sought to monitor the safety of the plant. Ultimately, Lynas is responsible for the total safety of the plant, its workers and the affected public.

Do you think the Environmental Impact (EIA), Risk Assessment Report (QAR), Radiological Impact Report (RIA) were all preliminary?

Yes. Detailed reports are required as per international standard.

In those reports (EIA, QAR and RIA), the internal radiation was not dealt with.

Detailed reports (are) needed, we will address the issue in the review. Actually there are formulas to calculate the internal radiation based on the exposure pathway analysis.

As per the RIA report and Lynas, there is no definite plan on the management of radioactive waste. RIA only did the assessment up to 10 years. Lynas is only doing R&D (research and development) on the recycling of the radioactive waste, which means (there is) no solution at this moment of time.

Currently, the radioactive waste is going to stored at the Residue Storage Facility (RSF) (and if it is) full, (another decision would be made) later. What is the definite plan for management of these radioactive wastes?

(We) will answer that in detail in the final report.


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