A grant of €23m ($25m) has been allocated from the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for remediation of Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan. This is one of the largest and most heavily contaminated uranium legacy sites in Central Asia. The grant – the largest since the establishment of the ERA – will help to stabilise and cover more than 2m cubic metres of radioactive tailings. Approximately 350,000 cubic metres tailings need to be relocated from the Mailuu-Suu River to a safe disposal site. This will prevent toxic material spreading into the Fergana Valley, which has a population of more than 15m.

The grant agreement, which will allow the start of seven years of remediation works, was signed by Boobek Ajikeev, Minister of Emergency Situations of the Kyrgyz Republic, and Balthasar Lindauer, EBRD Director, Nuclear Safety Department.

The planned soil covers will be two metres thick, which will minimise infiltration into tailings and will prevent access to them. This will bring major environmental relief to more than 100,000 people living in and around the town of Mailuu-Suu. The project will also finance the rehabilitation of contaminated land and water resources in the area.

This is the third such site to be remediated in the Kyrgyz Republic following the successful completion of similar work at former uranium-mining locations in Shekaftar and Min-Kush in spring 2022. The project will serve as a model for initiatives in other parts of Central Asia, where the issue of uranium legacy sites still needs to be addressed.

ERA, established in 2015 on the initiative of the European Union (EU) and managed by the EBRD, addresses the legacy uranium mining in Central Asia, which was an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. A large amount of radioactively contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites and now poses a threat to the environment and the health of the population. The hazards include the possible pollution of ground and surface water in a key agricultural centre of the region. The EU is ERA’s biggest donor, while contributions have also been made to date by Belgium, Lithuania, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.

In August 2017, the Kyrgyz government ratified a framework agreement with the EBRD establishing all the basic conditions for remediation work to begin at several uranium legacy sites in the country.

Image: The EBRD has allocated Kyrgyzstan a grant for the remediation of the Mailuu-Suu uranium legacy site (courtesy of EBRD)