Thursday, April 14, 2011
Rare earth: Australian politician and academician back MP Kuantan YB Fuziah Salleh
Free Malaysia Today
April 14, 2011
An Australian politician has urged the Western Australian premier to stop Lynas Corporation from exporting radioactive material to Malaysia.
PETALING JAYA: An Australian politician has come out in support of Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh against the rare earth plant project being undertaken in Pahang.
Robin Chapple, who is a member of the Western Australian Legislative Council, expressed grave concerns about the shipment of radioactive thorium from the Western Australian town of Kiwana to Malaysia for processsing.
He added that West Australians were very much aware of the consequences of such processing.
“I am deeply worried that Lynas plans to remove only the bare minimum of thorium from its rare earth product, apparently so as not to trigger special export licence requirements for hazardous material,” Chapple, a Greens Party member, said in his letter to Fuziah.
“The current intent is to ship the material in sealed bags, which is similar to how (Lynas) exports its lead in Magellan bags through Fremantle (Western Australia).”
(Magellan bags are radioactive material waste bags.)
Australian mining giant, Lynas Corporation Limited, will be operating the massive processing plant being constructed in Gebeng, Kuantan, to produce metals used in products such as Apple’s iPhone, Toyota’s Prius and Boeing’s smart bombs.
Lynas Corporation is operating an ore mining plant in Mount Weld, located 35km south of Laverton, Western Australia.
“I would think that the Kiwana community living along the transport route would have something to say about a radioactive substance being shipped through their area in this manner,” Chapple said.
He also shared similar fears with the residents in Kuantan who are objecting to the construction of the processing plant.
“I have been in touch with community groups in Malaysia who have no desire to see Western Australia’s toxic by-products dumped on their villages.
“The Member of Parliament for Kuantan has called for any thorium refined from the exported material to be returned to Australia.”
“Perhaps because of this, the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board has yet to receive a pre-operation licence application from Lynas Corporation.”
He also urged Lynas Corporation to process the thorium at its Mount Weld mining site instead of transferring it to Kuantan.
He also said his Greens Party would be meeting Lynas Corporation representatives to discuss the issue.
Chapple added that the media in Western Australia and Malaysia are observing whether both governments are making “a responsible decision as to how this mine (Mount Weld) is operated and how its product will be exported”.
Chapple also gave an assurance that the Western Australian government, led by Prime Minister Colin Barnett, does not want to burden any parties by transporting or dumping radioactive waste elsewhere.
“The Barnett government surely does not want to be complicit in the transport of radioactive materials through Kiwana. Barnett has stated repeatedly that he does not wish to see uranium exported from Western Australian ports.”
“I would hope that he does not want to also be complicit in the dumping of radioactive waste in another country,” Chapple said.
He urged Barnett to “compel Lynas to ensure that no thorium leaves the Mount Weld mining site”.
The rare earth processing plant has received the green light from Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The Pahang government has also given the nod for the commencement of the project.
However, the project has been receiving a lot of flak from Fuziah, residents and NGOs. The residents of Gebeng have also protested against the plant at Parliament last month.
Doubts over thorium content
In another development, an Australian academic was skeptical of the low figures quoted by Lynas on the annual radiation exposure of its workers and said he had expected the figures to be much higher.
Dr Gavin Mudd, a senior lecturer for Environmental Engineering at Monash University, Melbourne, said the main point of concern posed by local experts was that all radiation exposure was cumulative and added up over a lifetime.
He also said raised doubts on the thorium content as claimed by Lynas.
“Claims that rare earth ore imported from Australia had a low thorium content were a way to downplay the significance of such issues” he said.
Lynas claimed that the thorium contained in its ore is 50 times lower than what was in the tin tailings used in the now closed Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh.
“The main question is the natural concentration in the area used for ore processing and waste disposal. (The average thorium content in the Mt Weld ore) is almost certainly higher than background or natural soil concentrations,” said Mudd.