Lynas has fooled us all

Posted on March 7, 2012. Filed under: Pollution |

LAMP must NOT be allowed to operate anywhere in Malaysia.

By Fuziah Salleh

Lynas plans to dilute the radioactive waste, declassify it from being labelled as radioactive and dispose of it as commercial items. Irresponsible and unethical behaviour, YES, but yet gets a green light from the Malaysian authorities.

Initially in 2008, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) was the only regulator for Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP). Then the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) came together before the visit by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) in May 2011.

But two more ministries have been added and now, there are four ministries responsible for Lynas (based on the joint statement of the four ministries on Feb 22). It has finally dawned upon the Najib administration that the hazards regarding LAMP are multifaceted in nature and dealing with LAMP requires multi-disciplinary intervention.

However, the presence of the various ministers and ministries does not add to the efficiency in managing LAMP, but rather adds more complications and contradictions, as is usually the case in Malaysia when we work across agencies. Clearly, no lead agency is calling the shots in Lynas’ case. Or AELB may be the lead agency, but at the same time proving to be very incompetent in regulating Lynas.

Day after day, the public continue to be fed with alarming and contradictory statements regarding LAMP’s safety. The various ministers as well as the regulatory body, AELB, cannot even seem to agree on the contents or the radioactivity of the waste. They even fall into the trap set by Lynas to label Lynas’ waste as “residue” instead of “hazardous and radioactive waste”.

First, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai announced that Lynas must send its waste back to its country of origin. Later, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak overruled it, saying that the waste will have to be transported out of Gebeng. The latest is the Minister of International Trade and Industry, Mustapa Mohamed, is quoted as having said that the waste from LAMP is not radioactive in nature. Thus it can be sent abroad with just a letter of undertaking.

While the various ministries had parroted that LAMP is safe, it’s only the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) who had been silent so far. The NRE minister had also failed to answer why a Detailed Environment Impact Assessment (DEIA) was not conducted before issuing the temporary occupation licence (TOL), when the law now clearly has made it compulsory to have a DEIA on LAMP.

I would like to bring to your attention the following data presented by Lynas in its Radioactive Waste Management Plan (RWMP) that was on display this January.

Characteristics and Radioactivity of the three waste streams.

Total activity of FGD=0.47 Bq/g
(FGD-Flue Gas Desulpharisation)

Total activity of NUF=0.52 Bq/g
(Nutralisation Underflow Fluid)

Total activity of WLP=62.3 Bq/g
WLP (Water Leach Purification)

This is not taking into account the thousands of cubic metres of treated liquid waste, discharged from LAMP on a daily basis, which may also have some radioactive materials in it. We do not know for sure how much, since Lynas does not have a pilot plant anywhere. The Gebeng plant will be the testing place with the issuance of the TOL.

Food chain

We have been assured by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Maximus Ongkili in Parliament that Malaysia follow international standards and the cut-off point for a waste to be classified as radioactive waste is 1Bq/g. Clearly, the WLP waste is classified as radioactive waste and has to be regulated by AELB.
The FGD and NUF, even though they are not classified as radioactive waste, are classified as hazardous waste since they also contain radioactive elements. These two waste streams will be regulated by Department of Energy (DOE) under the Environmental Quality Act.

In the RWMP, Lynas presented a best-case and a worst-case scenario for management of its hazardous and radioactive waste. The best-case scenario is to recycle its waste and to commercialise the FGD and NUF waste into gypsum boards and fertilisers. Basically, if this is allowed to happen, Malaysia will be legalising Lynas to scatter its radioactive waste EVERYWHERE.

At the same time, the Malaysian authorities will be allowing the public to be exposed to the hazardous and radioactive materials. Through the fertilisers, the radioactive materials will find its way into our food chain. The thorium in the waste has a half live of 14 billion years and is carcinogen in nature. In the process of decaying, which will take a very, very long time, radioactive gas will be released and it will finally stabilise as lead.

The Malaysian authorities in their endeavour to pacify the public and to cover up their mistakes in bringing Lynas to Malaysia, will actually be exposing the whole international community to the hazards contained in the waste.

All this while, Lynas has used the external radiation reading as a measurement of its safety, knowing that it can easily get away with it. But external radiation alone does not explain the various exposure pathways that the public is subjected to when dealing with radioactive waste.

With regard to the WLP, Lynas plans to commercialise this waste which is classified as radioactive waste by first diluting it to below 1 Bq|g so that it is declassified from being labelled as radioactive waste. Subsequently, the waste will be commercialised as base materials which will be used in the construction of roads (this was announced by Lynas in January).

This is the best-case scenario being presented and seems to be accepted by the authorities right now. The worst-case scenario is the PDF.

Cheating the public

Malaysia somehow does not seem to appreciate that this activity is an irresponsible and unethical behaviour and tantamounts to cheating the public.

Nowadays, the internationally accepted criteria for hazardous and radioactive waste disposal are based on the total amounts of contaminants of hazardous materials and not the concentrations of the contaminants alone.

Diluting the WLP will make it non-radioactive by classification, but the total amounts of radioactive materials in the waste will still remain the same (based on the Law of the Conservation of Mass).

But dilution of effluent is not allowed under regulation 17 of the Enviromental Quality (Sewage And Industrial Effluents) Regulations, 1979, which reads:

“No person shall dilute, or cause or permit to be diluted, any effluent, whether raw or treated at any time or point after it is produced at any permises unless prior written authorisation of the Director-General has been obtained for the dilution and the dilution is done according to the terms and conditions of the authorisation.

Malaysia must study how Lynas’ competitor, Molycorps, soon to be in operation in 2013, plans to manage its radioactive waste.

Molycorps in its documents has announced that it will have zero liquid discharge and all solid waste will be buried underground in concrete bunkers lined with lead walls. (Molycorps ores from Mount Pass in California have less thorium and uranium contents than Lynas’s Mount Weld ores.)

Lynas has made a mockery of Malaysian laws and has fooled the Najib administration. It has also made the ministers look so incompetent when these ministers were caught just repeating what Lynas tells them without having a clear understanding of Lynas’ misleading plans.

I continue to assert that Malaysia does not have the capacity nor the competency to regulate the largest rare earth refinery outside China. Neither does Malaysia has the capacity to develop a set of best practices for a rare earth refinery without referring to the China standards.

LAMP must NOT be allowed to operate anywhere in Malaysia.



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