Remediation begins at former uranium mining sites in Uzbekistan

20 September 2023

Remediation work at legacy uranium mining sites in Uzbekistan is under way, supported by a €9m ($11m) grant from the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA) – set up on the initiative of the European Union (EU) and managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD).

The grant funds will support work to close identified mine openings, demolish derelict facilities that were used for uranium ore processing, and to re-cultivate selected waste rock areas at the Yangiabad and Charkesar mines. The former site, 75 km east of Tashkent, has seven mines spread across the mountainous terrain around the town of Yangiabad. Once remediated, this area, known locally as the Uzbek Alps, will be environmentally safe, EBRD says.

The Charkesar-2 mine site is 140 km east of Tashkent and 60 km to the west of the city Namangan in the Fergana Valley. The contaminated area of approximately 25 hectares contains five already remediated waste rock dumps and two abandoned mine shafts. The existing water diversion channels on site are dilapidated.

Central Asia was an important source of uranium for the former Soviet Union. Uranium was mined for over 50 years and uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done to secure the large amounts of radioactively contaminated material were placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites.

In May, a grant of €23m was allocated from ERA for remediation at Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan. This is one of the largest and most heavily contaminated uranium legacy sites in Central Asia. ERA has now allocated funding to remediate five out of seven high priority sites in Central Asia (three of which are in the Kyrgyz Republic and two in Uzbekistan). As well as the mandatory remediation and demolition works, ERA-supported activity will help prevent toxic material from dispersing into the river system across the Fergana Valley.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Russia have also been supporting rehabilitation of Central Asia’s uranium legacy sites. The IAEA’s Coordination Group for Uranium Legacy Sites (CGULS was formed in 2012 to help coordinate national and multilateral remediation activities. In 2017, the IAEA, EC and EBRD signed a joint commitment on coordinating remediation efforts in accordance with a new Strategic Master Plan (SMP). EBRD estimated the total cost of measures outlined in the plan at €210 million, of which €56m had already been made available by the EU, Commonwealth of Independent States and World Bank.

Russia’s Central Design and Technological Institute (JSC TsPTI - part of Rosatom fuel company TVEL) in 2022 won the tender for the development of working documentation and performance of work at the Taboshar site in Tajikistan as part of the implementation of the Interstate Target Programme "Reclamation of the territories of states affected by uranium mining industries”. Under the contract, the territories of the tailings and the dump of the low-grade ore factory will be rehabilitated. The contract value exceeds RUB700 million ($11m) and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

Image: Work has begun at two sites in Uzbekistan (courtesy of EBRD)

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