European delegation charts progress in Kyrgyzstan

04 April 2017

 A joint delegation from the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has held talks with the government of Kyrgyzstan on addressing the environmental legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia.

EBRD, EU and Kyrgyz delegations meet (Image: Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Kyrgyz Republic)

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan formed an important uranium-producing region in the former Soviet Union, and more than 9000 tonnes of uranium were produced in Kyrgyzstan's Mailuu-Suu district between 1946 and 1967, and the Kara Balta Mining Combine was set up in the 1950s to mine and process ore near Bishkek. Uranium mining had ceased by the mid-1990s, leaving large accumulations of radioactive contaminated material in waste dumps and tailing sites. Very little remediation work has been done at these sites.

The joint EBRD and EU delegation visited Kyrgyzstan from 28 to 31 March to discuss developments with the Kyrzgyz government. EU environmental remediation efforts in the region aim to facilitate the rehabilitation of radioactive and contaminated uranium production sites to mitigate environmental and public health risks. The EBRD, at the request of the European Commission, in 2015 set up a new fund - the Environmental Remediation Account (ERA) for Central Asia - to finance projects to rehabilitate the region's former uranium mines and processing sites.

Kyrgyzstan's minister of emergency situations, Kubatbek Aiylchievich Boronov, said urgent measures were needed for environmentally unstable uranium legacy sites in Mailuu-Suu, Min-Kush and Shekaftar. "I am confident that today we have reached the next stage of our cooperation, where we can tackle the problems through specific programs and projects aimed to protect human health and the environment, both at the national and regional levels," he said.

Cesare de Montis, head of the delegation from the European Union to the Kyrgyz Republic, said environmental remediation in the country was part of the EU's overall environmental strategy for Central Asia. "Addressing the legacy of uranium mining will assist the Kyrgyz Republic in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by improving the living conditions of the people affected by these legacy sites," he said.

Balthasar Lindauer, EBRD deputy director for nuclear safety, said discussions with the Kyrgyz government had been "very open and fruitful". He said the delegation was pleased with Kyrgyzstan's readiness to engage with the program and to play an active role in its implementation. "We are confident that with all parties working together we will be able to make real progress in the coming years," he said.

Operations will be guided by a strategic master plan, prepared under the leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The plan defines priority sites and the estimated cost of remediation work, and is in the final stages of preparation. A first examination of two Kyrgyz sites has estimated remediation costs of €30 million ($32 million), according to the EBRD.

The findings from an EU-funded environmental impact study and feasibility for Min-Kush and Shekaftar, which provide the technical basis for remediation work, have been presented to the government. A study of the Mailuu-Suu site is due for completion by the end of 2018.

The EU has already contributed €16.5 million to the ERA, but the fund is seeking further support from the international community. The government has committed to take a leading role in efforts to mobilise further funds, the delegation said.

Kyrgyzstan has been invited to participate in the next assembly meeting of the ERA's contributors, which is scheduled to take place at the EBRD's London headquarters in July.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News