Monday, April 25, 2011

Pahang Bar demands year-long thorough review of Lynas plant

Pahang Bar demands year-long thorough review of Lynas plant
Sunday, 24 April 2011 09:43am
Image©The Malaysian Insider (Used by permission)
KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — Pahang lawyers are asking Putrajaya to expand Lynas Corp rare earth Kuantan plant’s one month review to at least a year, saying there must be a thorough look into public health and safety aspects to assuage fears about its radioactive waste.

Pahang Bar chairman Hon Kai Ping admitted the suggestion might tarnish Malaysia’s image as an investment destination but pointed out that the government should not rush its decision with so much at stake.

“The Pahang Bar is of the opinion that careful and thorough scrutiny of the rare earth operations is needed here and no decision should be rushed if the government is serious regarding the health and welfare of Malaysians,” Hon said in a statement to The Malaysian Insider.

He was commenting on International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed’s directive on for an international panel (IP) to review the health, safety and environmental aspects of the RM700 million plant in the Gebeng industrial park before issuing a pre-operating licence.

Mustapa ordered the move on Friday following mounting criticism and opposition to the plant operated by the Australian miner’s local subsidiary Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd due to fears of radioactive pollution. A similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh, that shut down in 1992 was cited as the cause of eight cases of leukaemia, seven resulting in death.

Lynas has expressed confidence the review will not hamper its plans to open the refinery and processing plant by this September.

Hon said the state chapter of layers did not have the exact terms of reference for the IP but details in the media suggested it was restricted to a scrutiny of the processing plant.

“If that is the case, then the Minister surely had not been briefed regarding the road shows organised by the State SEDC wherein the local experts contend that the amount of the radioactive Thorium in the ore to be imported is 0.16 per cent as opposed to 6 -8 per cent as shown by some independent foreign government reports and this formed one the main concerns of Kuantan folks raised during the town hall style briefings.

“If the terms of reference of the IP is restricted to the scrutiny of the processing plant only, obviously one of the main concern of the Kuantan folks would not be addressed and the findings of the IP serves no purpose,”  he added.

Hon said the Pahang Bar wanted the terms of reference of the IP must be widened to “include all aspects of the rare earth operations for example the truth regarding the amount of thorium content of the ore to be imported, the impact on the environment and the tourism industry, the number of base line studies conducted and their conclusions, the licensing conditions to be set by AELB, the proof of the parallel process to ensure that the storage in Gebeng is only temporary etc, just to name a few”.

He also asked for all documents, government and those submitted by Lynas, to be made public and independent experts appointed by Kuantan residents and other groups to the panel.

“To that extend and in order to do a thorough review, it is envisaged that a minimum period of one year is needed for a proper review to be concluded. Then and only then would the review by the IP gain some ground to assuage the fears of the Kuantan folks and Malaysians as a whole,” Hon said.

The lawyer noted the Bar’s proposal for the duration for the panel to work may disrupt the operational launch of the rare earth plant and affect the country’s image as an investment target but said public good was more important.

He asked the government to consider thorium’s undisputed half life of 14,000 million years and “Malaysia’s experience in Bukit Merah Perak, where to this day, 80,000 drums of thorium radioactive toxic waste is still stored there and as such any decision would affect Malaysians for generations to come”.

Local environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) asked the government yesterday to reveal all details of the panel reviewing  the plant or risk turning it into a public relations exercise.

SAM president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the government must reveal the names and qualifications of all the experts to be appointed on the panel and publicise their detailed findings upon completion of the one-month study.

“The public and communities in Kuantan and Gebeng have the right to know who the experts are who would be conducting the study. We need to ascertain the experts’ objectivity and competence on low-level radiation and impacts.

“The findings of the study should also be made public so that it can be verified and open for public comments,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pledged that public health and safety was priority in his home state, where the plant will be sited.

Lynas had expected to receive a preliminary operating licence from regulators Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) by September, which was to be renewed as a full licence within three years should the plant comply with agreed standards.

It is anticipating revenue of RM8 billion a year from 2013 onwards from the rare earth metals that are crucial to the manufacture of high-technology products such as smartphones, hybrid cars and bombs. - from Malaysian Bar Website

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