Monday, 9 May 2011

Fuziah doubts IAEA panel impartiality

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh today questioned the impartiality of the United Nations nuclear agency engaged to advise the government on the rare earths plant in Kuantan, pointing to a report that one of the agency’s functions is to promote nuclear energy.

The opposition lawmaker said she had been at first relieved at the government’s move to seek aid from the UN’s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for assistance but changed her mind when she chanced upon research by environmentalist Joan Russow in the Global Compliance Research Project.

“After the horrifying statement made by the director-general of the AELB (Atomic Agency Licensing Board) vouching that the radioactive waste from LAMP (Lynas Advanced Materials Plant ) is ‘safe’ to the extent that it can be scattered everywhere, I was initially hopeful that the appointment of IAEA as an independent body to look into ‘Lynas Project’ will allay some of the fears of the Kuantan people.

“But as I read the article below written by Joan Russow from Global Compliance Research Project, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s too wishful for me to continue to be hopeful,” Fuziah wrote in a blog post today.

According to Russow’s article, although the IAEA has the role of nuclear watchdog, the agency had allegedly violated several fundamental principles through “selective monitoring” and the wrongful promotion of nuclear energy by means of “nukespeak, seductive devices, doctrines and dogmas”.

“Nukespeak”, she said, was to “sanitise by euphemisms”.

“There are forbidden words in the language of nuclear power. For example, the words ‘accident’, ‘pollution’, or ‘disease’ are never used. “Accidents are either ‘transients’, ‘events’, ‘significant events’, ‘anomalies’, ‘occurrences’ or ‘abnormal occurrences’,” said Russow.

IAEA was also accused of violating the principle sovereign equality of states as enshrined in the UN Charter.

“If the IAEA were serious about eliminating the risk of nuclear proliferation, it would have to be perceived to be fair.

“The IAEA has not embarked on a full programme of monitoring the nuclear arsenal of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain) — and their allies,” Russow wrote.

Additionally, she said, IAEA had also violated the principle that “a monitor should not a promoter be”, pointing out that while IAEA was set up to monitor the proliferation of nuclear arms, the agency also promoted the use of nuclear, including nuclear energy.

“For years, at least since 1992, and the negotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the IAEA has been a promoter of nuclear energy as the solution to climate change,” said Russow.

Fuziah noted that this could pose as a conflict of interest for the agency, should its advice be sought over the controversial RM700 million rare earths plant in Gebeng.

Reuters reported a statement from IAEA yesterday confirming that Malaysia had sought the help of the agency to organise an expert panel for advice on the potential radiation risks of a rare earths facility in Kuantan.

“Through the IAEA Technical Co-operation Programme, the agency will support the international expert mission to review the Lynas project’s compliance with relevant international safety standards and good practices and to provide an independent expert opinion on the radiological safety aspects of the Lynas Project,” Reuters quoted the IAEA as saying in a statement.

“This mission is scheduled to depart by May 29, 2011.”

It was announced recently that the plant would be put on a one-month hold pending a panel review on the health, safety and environmental aspects of the rare-earth refinery.

During the period, the Australian miner is barred from importing raw materials into the country.

Construction on the RM700 million LAMP can continue but it will not receive a pre-operating licence until the month-long independent review is complete, the federal government said on April 22.

Lynas has, however, said the review panel to be set up by the Malaysian government will not slow the start-up of its rare-earth refinery scheduled for September.

“Lynas understands that the review will be completed within a month and as such believes the review will have no impact on the anticipated completion date of the project,” the Sydney-based company said in a media statement.

“Lynas is confident the review will reconfirm that the plant is safe and presents no hazard to the community or Lynas workers,” it added.

Lynas also announced a new customer for its rare earth products to be produced by LAMP but withheld the name of the buyer.

Should it get a clean bill of health, the Gebeng plant will process rare-earth mineral ores, including neodymium and yttrium, shipped from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.