Sunday, June 12, 2011

FMT - Raring to go but is it worth the risk?

Free Malaysia Today

Tarani Palani | June 9, 2011

An anti-Lynas group continues its campaign to stop the project and feels that since there is no safe level of radiology, the Lynas plant could be a big risk.

PETALING JAYA: There is no such thing as a safety standard for radiation. This standard is subject to change and since there is no safe level of radiology, is the Lynas rare earth project worth the risk?

This is the question the anti-Lynas group is continuing to ask even as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) begins a month-long review of the controversial rare-earth project in Gebeng, Kuantan.

Representatives from the People’s Green Coalition told FMT that there is no “hard and fast” standard of acceptable radiation as this standard is subject to change with the input of more information over time.

Following such unstable standards, they repeated their main concern over the proposed plant in Pahang and if the project was worth the risk.

“International bodies such as IAEA and International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) have conservative standards. There are other international bodies which have said that their standards should be higher,” said Dr T Jayabalan, a public health consultant who treated some cancer patients from the disastrous Bukit Merah rare-earth plant in the 1980s.

“The standards set by these bodies are done by human beings. It is not a hard and fast rule. Over the years the standards have been changing. These standards will keep changing as more information is available.

Jayabalan represented the green coalition when he met with the IAEA to raise grouses against the rare-earth project last week.

The Malaysian government had asked IAEA for assistance in addressing public concerns about the project by forming a panel to review radiation heath and safety factors.

A misnomer

The international body had met with stakeholders for a week and is expected to submit its assessment to the government by the end of this month.

Jayabalan dismissed the word “safety” as a misnomer as it is internationally accepted that there is “no safe level of radiology” due to the high risk involved.

It was reported last week that the IAEA had admitted in its meeting with the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) that there is no such thing as “safe” levels of radiation and that some levels could still be justified.

He also took the national nuclear agency Nuklear Malaysia to task over its radiological impact assessment (RIA) on the Lynas plant.

The agency’s report concluded that operation of the plant will not (cause) any radiological risk to the workers and the residents living in the surrounding areas of the site beyond what is allowed by the regulatory authority.

However, this conclusion – as conceded by the agency itself – was derived from “default values” obtained from generic data sets as site-specific data was “not readily available”.

Jayabalan, responding to the report, said: “When there is inadequate information, it is a precautionary principle not to take risks. You can’t carry out mere experiments. It becomes genocide.”

He added that the agency should have taken data from the Bukit Merah incident. He recalled that he personally had handed a list of patients who were sick to the health ministry during the Bukit Merah incident.

Tropical conditions

He also said that the question to consider now was if such a risk was worth taking. This argument is shared by many anti-Lynas activists and his colleague, Ahmad Bungsu Hamidtua, from the coalition.

Ahmad Bungsu told FMT that the risk was not worth taking as there were hardly any returns to Malaysia. He also questioned the tropical conditions of Malaysia which he feared could lead to quicker spread of the radiation.

“It is extremely risky. These people are saying they want to dispose of the waste somewhere close to the factory. When you get rid of this waste, usually even in Australia, the US, they are planted in the desert, far away from population and where it cannot be circulated back into the environment,” he said.

“Compare the Malaysian weather patterns to the conditions in the dessert. It rains constantly here, and that will facilitate further the spread of these radioactive waste. The rain can carry the particles to the ground water. This may affect the wider population. Just imagine the contamination to river nearby,” added Ahmad Bungsu, who is a trained nuclear physicists.

He questioned the returns to Malaysia as the deal struck seemed to indicate that Malaysia was “stuck with all the liabilities while Lynas enjoyed all the profits”.

“Why are we taking such a risk?” he asked.

The coalition is set to have a press conference next week to reveal conclusions from their meeting with the IAEA.

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