One of the residues produced at Lynas is WLP, an iron phosphate material that is a very low-level naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).
This WLP residue has the same level of radioactivity as feedstock material as there is no technological enhancement of the radioactivity level during the production process.
WLP residue is not a waste product as independent studies have shown that it can be used safely and productively.
Under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classification scheme (2009), the WLP residue is classified as very low-level waste.
WLP contains naturally-occurring uranium and thorium with radioactivity levels that are comparable with those in some rock phosphates used in phosphate fertiliser, according to the research findings of Prof Muhamad Hanafi Musa of Universiti Putra Malaysia.
The radioactivity in WLP is also comparable to the radioactivity found in oil sludge and scales generated by the oil and gas industry. Unlike oil sludge and scales, the WLP residue can be used as a phosphate source to provide nutrients for plants.
Anti-Lynas activists continue to mislead the Malaysian people about WLP residue being unmanageable radioactive waste.
This is incorrect — the radiation risk from NORM is not about the volume and radioactivity but the exposure pathways and the exposure dose.
The scientists from the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant executive review committee and the IAEA have confirmed that Lynas Malaysia’s operations are low risk.
The 2014 IAEA Report states: “The radiological risks to members of the public and to the environment, associated with the operation of Lynas Advanced Material Plant, are intrinsically low.
“This finding does not come as a surprise as this is the case already observed in many industries that process NORM.”
The 2018 executive review committee report states: “There is confusion among the public in assessing the impact of radiation from the rare earth extracting plant containing naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) as compared to nuclear plants or plants that produce thorium or uranium.”
Anti-Lynas activists also continue to make misleading statements about similarities with Asian Rare Earth at Bukit Merah.
The executive review committee report states that there are “significant differences between the raw materials and residues produced by Asian Rare Earth (ARE) and LAMP (Lynas Advanced Materials Plant)”.
Sukiman Sarmani, a prof emeritus in radiochemistry and former chairman of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), and Dr Looi Hoong Wah, a prominent consultant physician with 40 years’ experience and interest in nuclear medicine and particle physics, have stated the following about WLP:
“The small amount of thorium and uranium in the WLP generated by Lynas are not man-made but naturally-occurring radionuclides found in soil, water and in food.
“Radiation risk is not dependent on the presence of the radionuclide but the mode of exposure and the exposure levels.”
Lynas Malaysia confirms the company is fully compliant with the internationally accepted exposure limits.
Professor Ismail Bahari is general manager, radiation safety, regulations & compliance at Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.