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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

IAEA panel gives green light to Lynas plant

It's almost all systems go for Lynas Corporation's massive rare earth plant project in Kuantan, with the international review panel giving the Australian-based mining company the green light.

The panel has found the RM700 million project in Gebeng, 25km from the Pahang state capital, to have complied with international radiation standards.

NONE"The review team was not able to identify any non-compliance with international radiation safety standards," says a summary of findings and recommendations made by the panel.

The nine-member international review panel was mootedby the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) and set up by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) two months ago to carry out a conclusive study on the safety of the Lynas Advance Material Plant in Gebeng.

The panel was headed by Tero Varjoranta, a director in the United Nation's IAEA.

However, the review team made an 11-point "necessary recommendations" to the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) for monitoring the plant before the start of operations, seven of which are technical recommendations.

Out of the 11 recommendations, five are to be done by the AELB.

The recommendations include the need for Lynas to submit its long-term plans for waste management to the AELB, as well as its plans for managing the wastes upon decommissioning and dismantling the plant.

The panel also recommended that the AELB should enhance the understanding, transparency and visibility of its regulatory actions in the eyes of the public and to further engage with the stakeholders.

NONEThe panel was in Malaysia for six days in May, during which its members made site visits as well as held consultations with Lynas, the government, NGOs and political parties.

Most notably,angry demonstrationshad accompanied the IAEA panel when they were in Kuantan for the consultation session, spooking an anti-Lynas NGO, 'Save Malaysia', from attending the session. It was revealed that the NGO also did not hand over a written submission to the expert panel.

However, the government has given its assurance that Lynas has still not been given the golden ticket to proceed with its plans, which include a September deadline for operations to commence.

"The recommendations are there and all requirements will have to be met with before any action is taken," Miti secretary-general Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria told a press conference at the ministry in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

NONE"It is only when they have met all requirements will they get their trial run licence. We intend to follow the recommendations to the tee," Sta Maria (right) said.

With Lynas intending to stick to its time-line, Sta Maria said the plant may not even get the pre-operating licence if it was found not to have complied with the regulations.

In the five-phase licensing process, the plant has already got the site and construction licences. The other phases include the pre-operating, operating and decommissioning licences.

The Gebeng plant is now 40 percent complete, according to Sta Maria.

She also clarified her minister's remarks on the suspension of consideration for the pre-operating licence, saying that construction of the plant could still be carried out under the construction licence.

However, she refused to comment on a New York Times report today that quoted sources and internal memos claiming that the plant was riddled with design flaws and was an environmentally hazardous construction.

"Lynas is having its press conference at 3pm today. They will be the ones to address the issue," she said.

Lynas 'indicated' how waste management will be done


Also at the press conference, the AELB director-general Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan said Lynas has 'indicated' to the government how the waste management will be done, but offered no details, citing confidentiality of 'intellectual property'.

But he gave AELB's assurance that Lynas has sent a preliminary Radioactive Impact Assessment report, which he called a “living document”.

"On the radiological safety point of view, AELB will be on site 24/7, at least during and before the pre-operating. If there are any indication of leakages or non-compliance or failure, then we will be able to stop it immediately...

NONE"We will take remedial mitigation procedures so that there are no failures. It is also in (Lynas') interest that their plant is well-constructed.

"As far as regulation is concerned, if the plant is built shoddily, it will affect operations later. So it is in the interest of the operator that the plant is built in highest standards possible. If not, the investment won't work," Raja Abdul Aziz (right) said.

Sta Maria added that one percent of the plant's gross sales will go to research and development, and half of that amount should go to a decommissioning fund.

The plant is supposed to process rare earth concentrate shipped in from the Lynas Corporation's Mount Weld site in Australia.

Though rare earth itself is not radioactive, it is commonly mixed with thorium, which is radioactive.

Rare earth is also crucial to modern-day electronic devices, such as smart phones, electric cars and wind turbines, something that the government has labelled as the first step towards green technology.

Fuziah maintains Lynas is hazardous

Meanwhile, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, from PKR, said she somewhat expected the decision by the IAEA, but maintains that the Lynas plant is hazardous.

She said the fact the New York Times had highlighted the non-safety of the plant despite the report showed that Lynas cannot be trusted.

She said that the non-safety as reported in the NYT showed that Malaysian administrators are not capable of monitoring the plant carefully as it may be built without the correct specifications.

“Lynas has a smaller facility in Mount Weld where it has a buffer zone of around 30km radius. There are no people living within a 30km radius of Mount Weld, Australia which enforces this strict requirement.

“With this Lynas facility, the nearest residential area is just 3km away and it may affect Indera Mahkota, Kuantan and Kemaman residents,” she pointed out.

The dangers are there, Fuziah said, and she herself had hired her own consultants to scrutinise the facility and make its findings.

“My consultants said it is dangerous and I will reveal their report in due time after the release of the IAEA report,” she said. - Malaysiakini

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