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First assembly meeting of EBRD uranium mining legacy fund

By Axel  Reiserer

Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyz Republic

Ministers from Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan to attend gathering of Environmental Remediation Account

A new EBRD-managed fund to deal with the legacy of Soviet-era uranium mining and processing in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will have its inaugural assembly meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on Thursday.

The meeting follows the EBRD Board of Director’s decision to set up the “Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia” (ERA) in May 2015 at the request of the European Commission (EC) to finance projects to rehabilitate high-priority sites in the countries where it will operate.

A joint EBRD and EC mission to the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan in June 2016 discussed possible areas of cooperation. Both countries have welcomed the creation of the fund and are committed to working closely with the EBRD to implement urgently needed remediation works.

The Kyrgyz Republic will be represented at the assembly meeting on Thursday by the Minister for Emergency Situations, Kubatbek Boronov. Tajikistan will dispatch its Minister of Industry and New Technologies, Shavkat Bobozoda.

To date, the EC has provided €16.5 million to the new fund. The EC also finances ongoing detailed environmental impact assessments and feasibility studies at priority sites like Min-Kush, Shekaftar and Mailuu-Suu in the Kyrgyz Republic and Taboshar and Degmay in Tajikistan.

Central Asia served as an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. This led to a large amount of radioactive contaminated material from the mining industry being disposed of in waste dumps and tailing sites. Most mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done.

The accumulated amount of radioactive contaminated material in the region is a threat to the environment and to the health of the population. Many of the uranium legacy sites are concentrated along the tributaries to 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.

Vince Novak, EBRD Director, Nuclear Safety, said: “This is a very important new initiative by the EC and the EBRD as it addresses one of the less-well known yet urgent remaining challenges from Soviet nuclear operations. Over the years we have built significant experience in addressing nuclear hazards in EBRD countries of operations and the new fund will allow other countries to benefit from our expertise. However, the success of our new fund will depend on the commitment of partner countries and support from donors.”

The EBRD has been managing nuclear safety and decommissioning funds on behalf of the international community since 1992 when the G7 requested to create the Nuclear Safety Account to deal with the legacy of Soviet-era nuclear facilities. In the following years the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, three international decommissioning support funds for Bulgaria, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic and the “Nuclear Window” of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Support Fund were also established and placed under the management of the EBRD Nuclear Safety Department.

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