No confidence in IAEA review team report on Lynas project

CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are disappointed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given the go ahead to the proposed Lynas rare earth processing plant in Gebeng by concluding that the review team was not able to identify any non-compliance with international radiation safety standards.  The team had nevertheless identified 10 issues which it considered that improvements were necessary before the next licensing phase of the Lynas project.

CAP and SAM had expected this outcome. In the first place we did not have much faith in the IAEA, which is basically an agency that was set up to promote nuclear energy and lends support to the nuclear industry.  We had earlier expressed our concern that the review mission team in Malaysia did not have a public health expert in its panel to study the potential public health impacts resulting from pollution and radiation from the plant.

The same was the case with the Asia Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah whereby the IAEA also gave the green-light for the plant to proceed work, only to produce radioactive contamination and disastrous health impacts to the surrounding community, also resulting in unnatural and untimely deaths.

IAEA’s statute authorizes it to adopt safety standards for the protection of health and minimization of danger from ionizing radiation. These international radiation safety standards do not signify that there is no danger posed to public health and the environment.

The Seventh Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII) report concluded that:
• There is no safe level of threshold of ionizing radiation exposure.
• Even exposure to background radiation causes some cancers.

Additional exposures cause additional risks.

In addition, 1 in about 5 workers would get cancer if exposed to the legally allowable occupational doses over their 50 years in the workforce. These risks are much higher than permitted for other carcinogens.

The fact is this plant would be a source of radiation, airborne radioactive dust emissions from the processing plant, residue storage facility and the discharge of radioactive waste-water and leachate that would impact surface water and groundwater. Thus IAEA’s report on the Lynas project should not be considered as an endorsement that the plant is safe as long as it complies with international standards since it would still be a source of ionizing radiation.

Besides this, it is not adequate for the government to announce to the public where to view the completed IAEA Report submitted to the Malaysian Government.  What is the next course of action proposed by the government to ensure meaningful public participation and to receive public comments on this report and future of this project?

Furthermore, we have no confidence in our regulatory bodies undertaking the monitoring and enforcement measures to ensure that all aspects of public health and safety are satisfactorily addressed because in the first place we have no faith in the international radiation safety standards.

The wisest action the Malaysian Government, which preaches that public safety remains its highest priority, should undertake now is to scrap this project in its entirety.  A plant that would harm public health and the environment is not acceptable.  Besides being reasonable and justified in our claims, we are indeed emotional on this issue as people’s lives and environmental health is at stake.

Letter to the Editor, 12 July 2011