Memorandum to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI)
Submitted by Save Malaysia Stop Lynas & Stop Lynas Coaltion
26th September 2013
For the urgent attention of YB Datuk Dr. Ewon Ebin
Subject: Temporary Operating Licence (TOL) of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP)
The Minister to instruct the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to immediately revoke Lynas’ TOL under section 22 of the Atomic Energy Licensing Act 1984 (Act 304), and order Lynas to immediately cease operation. This is in light of Lynas’ failure to provide a detailed plan for its radioactive waste by 3rd July 2013, the deadline set when the TOL was issued.
Lynas has failed to fulfill a key condition for its TOL. The government has the duty of care to its citizens, especially to the residents of the Balok area near Gebeng who are already exposed to Lynas’ pollution since it started operating last November, to suspend Lynas’ TOL to protect our environment and our health.
In Attachment 1 is a summary of the conclusion from Germany’s Oeko Institute based on a comprehensive scientific evaluation of Lynas’ waste and pollution management strategy as submitted for the licensing approval. The study clearly outlined several serious deficiencies which MOSTI must take heed and act on in the interest of Malaysia.
There are likely medium to long-term environmental, economic and social impacts from Lynas’ pollution and radiation contamination if the plant is allowed to operate. To date only a preliminary environmental impact assessment has been carried out which is grossly inadequate to fully understand the full impact from a world-scale operation such as the LAMP.
Failure to stop the Lynas pollution will cost Malaysia in the long run leaving behind a toxic legacy that will forever be a burden for Malaysia and its future generations. This is not in our national interest. Lynas’ waste contains radioactive thorium and uranium amongst other likely toxic substances. Thorium has a half-life of 14 billion years!
The LAMP belonging to Australia’s Lynas Corporation is built on a peat swamp near fishing villages and the South China Sea, a key fishing ground for the east coast of Malaysia. The coastal strip is increasingly popular amongst domestic and foreign tourists.
Rare earth processing has long been known to be highly hazardous. The process involves the addition of highly concentrated acids at very high temperature. Acid fumes, toxic gasses and fine particles can cause very serious air pollution when they are not contained properly. Large volumes of highly saline water likely to be contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive substances are expected to be discharged from the Lynas plant to the Balok River which eventually flows into the South China Sea only 3km away.
The LAMP is not a State-of-the-Art Refinery
Former senior engineers working for Lynas during its construction phase had revealed many serious defects – see Attachment 2 for a summary of these defects. Eric Noyrez, Lynas’ present Chief Executive Officer has recently conceded to the media that the LAMP has equipment and technical problems which are affecting its production. The occupational health and safety (OH&S) implication of these construction defects has never been assessed independently by an expert. We have heard of serious workers injuries and several deaths at the LAMP. No detail has yet been made public to date. The turnover of staff remains very high despite the high wage level at Lynas.
Earlier this year in February, we received reports from local residents of dark fumes billowing out of Lynas’ chimney stack at night. So far, no data on air or water pollution from DoE or Lynas has been made public.
The market has lost confidence in Lynas. Its share value has plunged to around Australian 40 cents a share recently. Currently Lynas is operating below a sustainable financial manner casting doubt on its long term viability.
Impact on the Environmental and local Seafood
The Balok River sustains one of the few important mangrove forests – see Attachment 3 for details. The Balok River is used extensively on a daily basis both for recreational purpose and to sustain local livelihoods. It floods the surrounding mangrove at high tide and leaves behind a wide range of suspensions on the flood plains at low tide. Shell fish thrive in these flood plains. Locals collect mud crabs and other shell fish as well as collecting palm fruits to sell and/or for self-consumption. The Balok River should not be used for industrial waste water discharge and domestic sewerage dumping. The World Health Organisation (WHO) standard for water should be adhered to – refer to Chapter 8 and 9 for discussion and standards for chemicals and radiation:
Recycling of Lynas Waste is a Hazard and a Health Risk
Lynas’ proposed recycling of the solid waste is risky in light of the presence of radioactive substances and other toxic substances in its waste. The Oeko Institute has estimated the radiation exposure dose for several recycling scenarios of Lynas waste. In all of the scenarios, the public will be exposed to unacceptable high total dose of radiation if it is released into the public domain – see slides 4 and 5 of Attachment 1.
It is highly unlikely Lynas will find any buyer in Malaysia or overseas for its contaminated waste.
Shipping Lynas Waste out of Malaysia is Not an Option
A joint ministerial statement issued by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry on 10th December 2012 reiterated that that Lynas must remove “all the residue generated by LAMP out of Malaysia. This includes all products made from the residue.” It further added that the Cabinet has endorsed this condition.
The Western Australian Government has clarified several times in the state Parliament that it will NOT allowed Lynas waste to be returned to the state. Extracts from the WA official parliamentary record Hansard is attached as Attachment 4 and 5. In addition, Australia has a strict policy against importing any radioactive materials (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_reg/cir1956432/s4r.html) .
Further, trans-boundary transportation of hazardous waste is controlled by the Basel Convention http://www.basel.int/. It will be near impossible for Lynas to find a country willing to accept millions of tonnes of its waste whether raw or processed. In Malaysia’s interest, Lynas should NOT be allowed to produce any waste until this issue is truly resolved.
Public Should be Informed and Updated
Leading up to the issuing of the TOL to Lynas, many recommendations and conditions were made:
· 11 recommendations made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its June 2011 review;
· 5 conditions set by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) for its licensing approval in January 2012;
· 2 additional conditions set by the Minister of Science, Technology and Investment (MOSTI) following the Ministerial Review in June 2012; and
· 31 recommendations by the Parliamentary Select Committee in June 2012.
We have no idea how and if any of the recommendations or conditions has been followed up. They were written to give the public the impression that the government will be watching Lynas. The government has never bothered to explain to the people and local residents how exactly it has been monitoring and evaluating Lynas’ pollution. How do we know if the Balok River is safe for use? How will we know if the seafood from the nearby area is not contaminated? How do we know for sure Lynas’ waste gases are within the safe limits? What are exactly found in Lynas’ waste?
In addition to the earlier demand to revoke Lynas’ TOL, SMSL request the Government to:
· Act on recommendation 11 (c) of the June 2011 IAEA Report on Lynas to invite a follow-up mission on Lynas as soon as possible
· Make public all available data relevant to Lynas’ air, water and waste discharges for independent scrutiny and analysis
· Carry out independent detailed environmental and social impact assessment before allowing Lynas to continue with its operation
· Carry out an independent engineering audit of the LAMP both to assess its structural soundness and its OH&S implication.
· Disclose to the public how the Government has carried out the recommendations and/or monitored the conditions outlined in the previous section.
· Learn and heed lessons from China to institute more stringent legal limits related to rare earth processing to more effectively control its pollution.