Rallying support for Central Asia to address uranium mining legacy

By Axel  Reiserer

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Plan to clean up Central Asia uranium mining legacy signed

Uranium legacy site, Uzbekistan © European Commission

  • Pledging event to raise funds for Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia
  • Support for Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to address uranium mining legacy
  • New UN resolution calls on international community

A pledging event on 8 November 2018 is expected to demonstrate the international community’s solidarity with efforts to overcome the legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia.

Donors will gather at the EBRD Headquarters in London to pledge further commitments to the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), established in 2015 at the initiative of the European Commission and managed by the EBRD. To date the fund has received €17 million in contributions.

The fund is operating in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with whom framework agreements have been signed. Work has commenced with the procurement of project management experts. The ERA’s goal is to assist these countries to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by uranium production in the past. These have been identified in a Strategic Master Plan (SMP), jointly developed by key stakeholders. The SMP is publicly available on the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A strong call for action was expressed last week at the IAEA General Conference in a side event hosted by the Coordination Group for Uranium Legacy Sites with the theme “The Time is Now – Remediating Central Asia’s Uranium Legacy Sites”.

The urgent need to remediate uranium mining legacy sites in Central Asia will also be highlighted in the margins of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. The case for international support was made in a conference titled “People and Planet: Central Asia Calls for International Solidarity”, hosted by the Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov, and attended by Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Alan Rousso, EBRD Managing Director for External Relations and Partnerships, as well as by representatives of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Alan Rousso said: “The international community must support Central Asia in the task to protect its people and the environment from the threat posed by abandoned uranium mines. We are looking forward to welcoming many countries and organizations to London on 8 November, helping to close the funding gap to achieve remediation to good international standards.”

Central Asia served as an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. Uranium was mined for over 50 years and uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing. A large amount of radioactively contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done prior to, or after, closure of the mining and milling operations.

The amount of radioactively contaminated material accumulated in the region is a threat to the environment and to the health of the population. Many of the uranium legacy sites in Central Asia are concentrated along the tributaries of the Syr Darya River which runs through the densely populated Fergana Valley, the agricultural centre of the region which is shared by the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

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