Progress with environmental clean-up in high-level talks
The effort to address the legacy of Soviet era uranium mining in Central Asia is making substantial progress.
Following the establishment of the multilateral Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA) framework agreements have now been signed with the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where the fund will operate.
The operations will be guided by a strategic master plan which is in the final stages of preparations and based on already concluded studies covering high priority sites. A first examination of two sites in Tajikistan, Digmay and Istiklol, has established estimated remediation costs of €30 million.
A joint mission by representatives of the European Commission (EC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Tajikistan from 3-5 April 2017 provided the opportunity to discuss the latest developments with the government.
Hidajet Biščević, Head of Delegation, EU Ambassador to Tajikistan, said: "The environmental remediation in Tajikistan is part of the European Union's overall environmental strategy for Central Asia. Addressing the legacy of uranium mining will assist Tajikistan in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by improving the living conditions of the people affected by these legacy sites.”
Balthasar Lindauer, EBRD Deputy Director, Nuclear Safety, commented: “We had good discussions with the Tajik authorities and we shared the view that all building blocks are now in place to start remediation works. We agreed to work closely together in establishing the necessary framework to deliver and improve the living conditions of Tajik citizens.”
Recent progress includes:
Development of a strategic master plan. The plan defines the priority uranium legacy sites and the estimated cost of the remediation work. It provides the basis that works take place on the basis of highest international standards and best practices. The plan was prepared under the leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) together with experts from the affected countries and the international community.
Activities in Digmay and Istiklol. The EC has financed an environmental impact assessment and feasibility studies for the two sites to assess the radiological risks and develop remediation options. At the same time a water treatment project is ongoing at Istiklol.
Donor support. Strong support by the international community will be required to address the priorities identified by the strategic master plan. The government of Tajikistan has committed to take an active role in continuing efforts to mobilise further funds from donors.
Tajikistan has been invited to participate in the second ERA contributor’s assembly meeting on 7 July 2017 at the EBRD’s Headquarters in London. The EBRD established the fund in 2015 at the request of the EC and is managing it.
The EU’s efforts in environmental remediation in Central Asia are part of the overall EU-Central Asia strategy. These efforts have consistently aimed at facilitating the rehabilitation of radioactive and contaminated uranium production sites to mitigate the environmental and public health risks faced by the Tajik people. The EU has already provided €9 million for detailed environmental impact assessments and feasibility studies at these priority sites, including at the Tajik legacy sites of Digmay and Istiklol.
The EU has also funded a programme with UNDP to raise awareness among both the donor community and the Tajik population of the upcoming remediation works.
The European Union has contributed €16.5 million to ERA and looks forward to working together with other international partners to attract further contributions for the crucial remediation works in Central Asia. In general, the EC is seeking to improve nuclear safety culture, responsible safe management of nuclear waste and nuclear safeguards worldwide.
The EBRD manages seven donor funds providing support to increase nuclear safety and reduce radiological risk in eastern Europe and Central Asia. To date, 45 donor countries and institutions have pledged over €4.0 billion to EBRD-managed nuclear safety projects. The largest project is the transformation of Chernobyl into an environmentally safe and secure site.