Side Views

Let’s de-politicise the Lynas issue — Stop Lynas Coalition

MARCH 21 — The majority of us anti-Lynas people feel offended by the government’s unending insistence the issue is politicised. We feel belittled by a government that does not see us rakyat as capable of thinking for ourselves, and so easily hoodwinked by the opposition.

They insist on talking facts, which came to mean solely the IAEA review report, but completely ignored all other dissenting opinions, even if these dissenting opinions are voiced by esteemed professional bodies such as the Bar Council and the Malaysian Medical Association. Perhaps, their members are somehow misled too. 

These opinions are raised over time in published articles and public feedback and they have either been poorly addressed, or completely ignored. I hope to raise 3 main ones in this article and request that the government gives them befitting consideration so that we can de-politicise this Lynas issue.

a) The radiation risk is greater than what Lynas and the Malaysian government are willing to admit

The radiation safety aspect of LAMP is legitimised by the IAEA’s review. However, increasing number of scientific literature points to a strong possibility that the IAEA model may have underestimated the risk of internal emitters, which are radioactive sources that are inhaled or ingested. This hypothesis is not merely based on correlation type studies, but is backed with sound scientific reasoning.

Thorium accumulates in the body. According to the “Radiological and Chemical Fact Sheets to Support Health Risk Analyses for Contamination”, about 0.02 per cent to 0.05 per cent of ingested thorium is dissolved in the bloodstream, and subsequently deposited mainly in the bones where the radioactive source becomes embedded within the bone tissue for a few decades .  We are unsure exactly how much the body retains thorium from inhalation, but we know that “thorium is taken up in the body much more readily if inhaled rather than ingested”. True enough, the Radiological Risk Coefficient from inhalation is 450 times greater than that of ingestion [1].

Therefore if significant embedment of thorium is expected, the competing theory against IAEA’s ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) model, the ECRR (European Committee on Radiation Risk) model must be considered because it takes into account the effects of thorium retention in the body. ECRR proponents reasonably believe that the ICRP formulation is wrong to dilute the radiation exposure from internal sources to the whole body, instead of confining it to the surrounding tissue only.  So, the ECRR contends that the ICRP model has underestimated the real risk of low-level radiation.

In an email exchange between Lynas’ Radiological Safety Officer Nick Tsurikov and the editor for ECRR Chris Busby, Chris Busby suggested that the risk from internal thorium exposure should be 100 times greater than what IAEA says it is [2]. The fact is, there is much uncertainty over the actual risk of low-level radiation within the scientific community.  It is foolish for the Malaysian government to ignore the possibility that the ECRR might be right.

b) Construction reliability

New York Times on the 29th June 2011 in the article “The Fear of a Toxic Rerun” revealed cost-cutting practices as well as construction and design flaws of the plant.  Some of them are “structural cracks, air pockets and leaks in many of the concrete shells for 70 containment tanks.” [3] Then on 31st January 2012 in the article “Rare Earth Metal Refinery Nears Approval” reported that one of the key contractors to Lynas, AkzNobel pulled out due to quality concerns [4].

In response to these allegations, the Malaysian government tried half heartedly to appease the public’s concern by obtaining safety verification from an unidentified registered engineer. No further information was given on what checks where done and their results [5].  So, in addition to the uncertainty over the real risk from low-level radiation, we now also face the uncertainty over the impermeability of their waste ponds.

c) Nobody likes to be treated like 3rd world

Lynas loves to boast that their project is approved in Australia also.  Given Australia’s high environmental standard, if it is approved in Australia, why would Malaysians reject it? However, Lynas hid from the public that the Australian proposal was approved under extremely stringent conditions.

The table shows the conditions under the Australian proposal [6] compared to LAMP.

Therefore, how can they accuse the opposition of politicising the issue if the government itself refuses to be sympathetic to these very reasonable concerns? if Lynas is politicised at all, it is by the BN government because they gave away the opportunity for engagement to the opposition.

[1] “Radiological and Chemical Fact Sheets to Support Health Risk Analyses for Contaminated Areas”, Argonne National Laboratory Environmental Science Division, March 2007. From http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/ANL_ContaminantFactSheets_All_070418.pdf

[2] “Radiation - general notes”, Nick Tsurikov, 25 Sep 2011, pg 20.

[3] “The Fear of a Toxic Rerun”, New York Times, by Keith Bradsher, June 29 2011.

[4] “Rare Earth Metal Refinery Nears Approval”, New York Times, by Keith Bradsher, Jan 31,2012

[5] “Radioactive Fallout from iPhones and Flat-Screen TVs?”, Kiera Butler, Mother Jones, 23 Feb 2012.  From http://motherjones.com/environment/2012/02/rare-earths-lynas-malaysia

[6] “Proposed rare earths mining and beneficiation at Mt Weld, Laverton and secondary processing at Meenaar, near Northm”, Ashton Rare Earths Ltd, August 1992.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

Comments