The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on 28 July that work had started in the Kyrgyz Republic to overcome the legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia, a former industrial centre during the Soviet period near the border with Uzbekistan. Despite the global disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic intense project preparations continued in recent months to deliver the start of the construction works on schedule, EBRD noted.

The first remediation works will focus on the closure of six shafts in Shekaftar and the relocation of five waste-rock dumps to an existing dump at a more remote location. Once a thriving community based on uranium mining, today the town has an unemployment rate of 70%.

The work is funded by the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), established and managed by the EBRD on behalf of the international donor community.

Work on other sites in the Kyrgyz Republic is expected to commence soon. It will follow a Strategic Master Plan developed by a group of experts under the guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The plan sets out a detailed blueprint for the environmental remediation of priority sites in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

These three countries are currently in the scope of ERA, the latest nuclear safety fund managed by the EBRD. To date, ERA has received support through contributions from the European Commission, Belgium, Switzerland, the United States of America, Norway and Lithuania.

Central Asia served as an important source for uranium in the former Soviet Union. A large amount of radioactively contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. The contaminated material is 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 Shekaftar mining complex includes three closed mines and eight mining-waste disposal areas that contain about 700,000 cubic metres of waste from mining operations. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done before or after the closure of the mining and milling operations.