The European Union (EU) on 9 November, at an international donors’ conference on nuclear remediation in London, announced an additional €10 million ($11.3m) to support Central Asia in dealing with toxic and radioactive waste in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Central Asia was an important source of uranium for the former Soviet Union, which was mined for over 50 years. Uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing in the region. This led to a large amount of radioactively-contaminated material being placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Although most mines were closed by 1995, very little remediation was undertaken.
The EU had previously contributed €16m to the project to implement a sustainable remediation programme in the region, and has spend more than a decade working on feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments, with an initial investment of around €14 million. Work has been carried out in close collaboration with the governments concerned, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Remediation plans have been endorsed by the relevant governments and now require urgent action to deal with an estimated 1 billion tons of hazardous processing waste abandoned in the region. The programme has identified seven priority sites where action must be taken to prevent the pollution of the Fergana valley adjacent to the Syr Darya river. Remediation work will start in 2019 at four sites in the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan.
The Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia fund established in 2015 at the initiative of the European Commission, is managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The fund has started operating in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It came after approval from the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 68/218, which called for international support to solve the uranium mining legacy.
Belgium, Switzerland, the USA and Norway also pledged significant contributions, and Lithuania made a donation. The EBRD said this is sufficient to extend the work of the fund to additional contaminated sites, although more will be required to tackle all priority sites in the region.
Photo: Tailings ponds near the bank of Mailuu-Suu river