The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and partners including the European Commission (EC) and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have signed a joint commitment on coordinating efforts to achieve the safe and sustainable environmental remediation of Uranium Legacy Sites (ULS) in Central Asia, in accordance with a new Strategic Master Plan (SMP), The IAEA said in a press release on 21 September. Parties involved in the project, including the EBRD, the EC, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan attended a signing ceremony in Vienna during a side event of this week’s 61st regular session of the IAEA General Conference.

Uranium mining and processing were prevalent in Central Asia from the mid-1940s to the 1990s, when planning for end-of-life management was not common. As a result, residues of radioactive and toxic contaminants pose ongoing threats to the health and the livelihood of people in the region, as do abandoned mines and processing infrastructure. The SMP provides a framework for carrying out remediation activities in Central Asia in a timely, cost-effective and sustainable manner. It was developed with the Central Asian countries by core members of the IAEA’s Coordination Group for Uranium Legacy Sites (CGULS), which was formed in 2012 to help coordinate national and multilateral ULS remediation activities in Central Asia.

“Our cooperation aims to help the people in the communities affected by the uranium legacy sites. We are working together to help create a safe environment for current and future generations,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “Effective coordination will help ensure that remediation will be addressed in a timely, cost-effective and sustainable manner.” The SMP was produced with the financial assistance of the EU, however a disclaimer stated explicitly that the views expressed in the plan “can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union”.

An EBRD statement said the plan lays out a detailed blueprint for the environmental remediation of priority sites in the Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, adding that the total cost of measures outlined in the plan is estimated at €210m ($252m), of which €56m has already been made available by the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the World Bank. The EBRD said work on seven priority sites in the three central Asian countries will be funded by the international Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), managed by EBRD and established in 2015 on the initiative of the EU. The EBRD said the EU is so far the only contributor to the ERA fund with an initial contribution of €16.5m. 

Photo: Group photo of parties at the signing ceremony including, in centre, IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.