Lynas Review Panel must be reformed

On 14 May, the Minister for the International Trade and Industry (MITI), Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohammed announced the independent panel to review the proposed Lynas rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, Pahang.

Since the review involves environmental and public health and radiation safety issues, concerning a hazardous facility, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the MITI.

We are thus puzzled why MITI was charged with announcing the review panel members, bearing in mind that a preliminary environmental impact assessment was submitted to the Department of Environment (DoE) in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 2008.

We are also puzzled as to why an independent Malaysian authority was not responsible for the appointments of each of the nine members of the review panel. A more suitable and impartial body like the DoE should have helmed the selection process instead of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board which as it turns out delegated the entire responsibility to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA’s main interest is to promote nuclear energy and its related activities worldwide. Whereas the DoE was set up to protect the environment and promote environmentally sustainable activities.

The public is told that the ‘independent panel’ members are experts in their respective disciplines but no information on the detailed competencies of each of the panel members is given. In any appointments to committees of such nature, it is standard requirement that individual CVs of members are provided.

However a search on the profile of each member of the ‘independent panel’ has confirmed our worst fears that they are not really as independent as they have been made out to be.

Four (plus one) of the nine panel members are staff of the IAEA namely,

• Dr. Tero Varjoranta (Finland), Director of the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy. Dr. Varjoranta is head of the review panel.

• Dr. Magnus Vesterlind (Sweden), Head of the Waste and Environmental Section, IAEA.

• Dr. Horst Monken Fernandes (Brazil), staff member of the Wastes Technology Section, Division of Nuclear Fuel Cell and Waste Management

• Ms. Hanna Kajander (Finland), Communications Officer, IAEA

• Hiroko Ratcliffe (Austria), Administrative Assistant, IAEA

The five external experts are:

• Mr Jan van der Steen (Netherlands).


Website  or

An engineer by training, he was the Manager of Radiation and Environment Session at NRG, Arnhem. NRG (Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group) is the nuclear service provider in the Netherlands. From its website NRG states: ‘Our products and internationally renowned expertise are frequently called on by both governments and industries… Another aspect of our work is our durable focus on safety of nuclear reactors and attractive options for nuclear waste management, including recycling technologies. We are engaged in applied research enabling nuclear energy to become more sustainable. Examples include research into fourth generation nuclear energy systems, and nuclear fusion technology.’

At NRG, we believe that nuclear technologies are essential for a sustainable society. And we are committed to devote all our energy to it.’

• Dr Leo M. Lowe, (Canada)


Website: or

He has a doctorate in Nuclear Physics, and is Principal Consultant, Senior Health and Environmental Physicist, SENES Consultants Ltd. The company has worked with IAEA. ‘SENES clients have included uranium mining companies, uranium refineries, fuel fabrication facilities, nuclear power plants operators, numerous industrial clients, industry associations and federal and international agencies and regulators.’

‘SENES provides a broad scope of services related to the management of low-level radioactive wastes. These include: the conceptual design and assessment of disposal facilities; assessment of impacts on contaminated environments; design of remedial measures for contaminated sites; and supervision of contaminated material removal.

• Dr PM Balagopala Pillai (India), he is a scientist at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). He was Head, Health Physics Unit, Indian Rare Earths Ltd plants in South India. He has served as a consultant to the IAEA.

• Dr Dennis Wymer (UK)

A mechanical engineer, he has worked for the IAEA from 1993 to 2009. Prior to this, he was involved in the South African mining industry. In a paper in 2001 representing the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, he presented environmental monitoring data for the radiological impact from the gold uranium mining industry and its wastes. These data were used to calculate doses for members of the public. His paper states: ‘[…] It is concluded from these results that the impact of gold mining operations on the environment is small, and will not cause any member of the public to receive a radiation dose more than about 10% of the public dose limit. Current rehabilitation measures for tailings are mainly limited to vegetation and reworking of slopes. It is unlikely that the costs of constructing radon barriers would ever be justified on the basis of the minimal dose reduction benefits that could be achieved. Some measures to control surface water pollution may continue to be necessary but, from present knowledge, contamination of ground water is unlikely to be of concern. […]’ (excerpt from the abstract)   (Source: )

• Mr. Ulric Schwela (Finland).

Currently Technical Promotion Officer bei Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center. Metals & Mining Consultant and Contractor, Radioactive Materials Transport Adviser, Blackpool, United Kingdom. He has a degree (BSc) in Chemistry, and has worked with the IAEA on projects.

Despite its international composition, the members of the review panel are all linked to the nuclear industry. They are trained in the physical and engineering sciences and have no known expertise in public health, radiation safety, environment and socioeconomic issues.

What is even more troubling, the external experts are consultants working for nuclear companies which exist for commercial purposes. The job of a consultant is primarily to bring in projects and profits for the companies he/she works for. Thus they are all proponents of the nuclear industry.

In the context of radiation safety, public health and the environment, it is imperative to involve individuals who are independent of nuclear establishments and nuclear related industries.

In the interest of transparency, accountability and credibility, we urge the Malaysian government to form a comprehensive and integrated review panel.

This review panel should comprise real independent experts on public health, radiation safety, medicine, environment, law and the social sciences. 

Letter to the Editor, 18 May 2011