Monday, April 18, 2011
Expert: Lynas will be far worse than Bukit Merah
This will be 10 times more than the controversial Asian Rare Earth factory that was closed down in Bukit Merah 20 years ago, public health expert Dr T Jayabalan said.
The plant's projected rate of radioactive waste production, Jayabalan (right) said, would spell environmental and health disasters as dumping huge amounts of such waste, regardless of radioactive levels, would concentrate the deadly effects.
He explained that direct exposure to such a large amount of thorium, even if proven by both Lynas and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to be low in radiation, would be lethal as radiation levels build up according to the volume of waste piled together.
Both Lynas and the AELB have said that the plant would produce thorium - a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element - as a waste by-product from the plant's operations in the Gebeng industrial area, some 25km from Kuantan, Pahang.
However, the Australian company and the national atomic power agency maintain that thorium has a low radiation level and is not harmful to people or the surrounding environment.
Jayabalan warned against buying into claims that thorium is safe, stressing that any prolonged exposure to increased radiation levels "no matter how minute" would be a health hazard.
"Perhaps AELB and Lynas are right, that rare earth is not radioactive because they remove the radioactive waste. What they will give you in Gebeng is this radioactive waste called thorium," he told some 500 people at a talk in Kuantan on Sunday night.
"And perhaps the authorities are right, that thorium is a low-level (radioactive) waste and they tell you it is safe.
"These are terms used by the industry to confuse you... remember, there is no safe level of any radioactivity," he said.
No safe haven
Jayabalan agreed that people are constantly exposed to "background radiation" - low levels of radiation from sunlight and other environmental factors - but stressed that bringing an additional source of radiation is akin to the death sentence.
He said the best defence from direct exposure to increased radioactivity was to "stay as far away as possible".
Jayabalan explained that when the ore is crushed, it releases another radioactive element which exists as a gas - radon.
"Radon can travel thousands of miles... which means you are not protected anywhere in Malaysia because the wind will blow (it across the nation)."
Jayabalan, who was among those who fought to shut down the Asian Rare Earth factory run by Mistubishi Chemical from the early 1980s to 1992, implored the people to learn from the experience of the Bukit Merah residents, who he said continued to pay for the ill-advised venture with their lives.
Showing slides of many children and young adults who were casualties of radiation exposure from the Asian Rare Earth factory, he said these people were innocent and unknowing victims of a tragedy that could have been avoided.
'Think of the future'
Jayabalan said the company and the authorities, having found no viable solution to manage the waste pile accumulated, decided to dispose of it at a heavily-guarded dumpsite located within a limestone formation in the area.
"At that time, the authorities gave their assurance that it would be safe and that they would first hold trial runs. But once it starts, it will not stop... what you will get is a large amount of dangerous waste that will outlast you.
"Even Lynas says it can't send it (the waste) back to Australia, meaning they know this is not an acceptable practice... we don't want this in our backyard. Take it back to Australia," Jayabalan said.
Lynas Malaysia has maintained that radiation experts from various government agencies, including AELB, the Department of Environment and Nuclear Malaysia have "presented findings" to show that the Lynas Advanced Material Plant in Gebeng would produce "safe, non-hazardous material".
On two postings on the company's Facebook page today, Lynas insisted that the plant causes "zero radiation exposure to the public" and that the company remains committed to its core values of creating a "safe environment for all", particularly for those living in and around Gebeng.
Lynas has invested some RM700 million into the plant, which it intends to complete by September this year. The company projects the plant to generate some RM8 billion in annual revenue by 2013.
Lynas insists rare earth ore not dangerous
By Shannon TeohApril 18, 2011
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh had cited an Australian parliamentary report which said the main source of thorium — the radioactive element found in virtually all rare earth deposits — there comes from monazite ore, which contains 8 to 10 per cent thorium.
In a statement sent to The Malaysian Insider today, Lynas said the mineral it will source from its mine in Mount Weld will only have 0.17 per cent of thorium.
“The research paper conducted by the Parliament of Australia that was referred to regarded a study on thorium that occurs in monazite, which is produced from the minerals sand industry. This is not the same as the rare earths that are mined at Mt Weld,” the company said.
It said that the use of the term monazite to loosely refer to rare earth phosphates has caused confusion when there were different types of rare earth phosphates.
Lynas added that the naturally low occurring radiation can be attributed to the unique geological nature of the rare earth minerals found at Mount Weld.
Fuziah (left) had said that the plant in the Gebeng industrial zone would produce up to 2,200 tonnes of radioactive waste a year.
“Whom do we believe? Lynas or the Parliament of Australia?” said the PKR vice president, who has been leading the call to reject the refinery that is set to be completed in September.
Alarm in Japan over radiation leaks from nuclear plants damaged by the recent earthquake and tsunami, coupled with a recent New York Times report highlighting the radioactive waste produced in the rare earth refining process, has revived fears and debate on the issue.
Environmentalists and residents living near the plant’s site in the Gebeng industrial zone have raised questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste being produced and stored at the plant.
They cite Malaysia’s last rare earth project, the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah, as a warning.
Nearly 20 years after the ARE facility was closed down, it is still being cleaned up at a cost of RM303 million. It has also been linked to at least eight cases of leukaemia, seven resulting in death.
The Australian Parliament research paper was published in September 2007 on the possibility of using thorium as a source of nuclear energy.
In an interview last Monday, Lynas executive chairman Nicholas Curtis said it was incorrect to say all rare earth was only found in monazite, but could be found in other deposits such as bastnasite.
“The comment that rare earth occurs in monazite with high levels of thorium is correct but it is not correct to say that is the only place that rare earths occur,” he said, adding that, by Australian law, Lynas was not allowed to use monazite.
Lynas expects to receive a preliminary operating licence from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board before September, which will be renewed as a full licence within three years should the plant comply with agreed standards.
The company hopes to earn RM8 billion in annual revenue from 2013 based on the refined metals’ current prices, when it will supply one-third of the world’s demand outside of China.