Landslides threaten to spread waste

3 June 2003

Environmental officials in Kyrgyzstan are warning that a spate of landslides threatens to contaminate large parts of the Fergana valley with radioactive waste.

Landslides caused by rains occur annually, but the rain has been unusually heavy this year, and the mudslides they have created have been made worse by the deforestation of the mountain slopes that has taken place over the last decade.

Analysts now fear that toxic waste dumped 30 years ago at a disused uranium mine near Mailuu-Suu could be washed away. One landslide has already taken place in the region.

Southern Kyrgyzstan has 23 landfill dumps and 13 slag heaps containing radioactive waste. The Mailuu-Suu mine produced uranium for the old Soviet Union from 1946 to 1967. It was finally closed down in 1973, but the waste was left where it was.

Scientists from 55 countries met in Kyrgyzstan to discuss how best to address the issue. The meeting funded by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe recommended setting up an international body to lobby for funds.

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