Cleanup of two Uzbek sites to start in early-2023

05 September 2022

Environmental remediation of former uranium mining sites at Yangiabad and Charkesar in Uzbekistan is set to begin following the signing of a EUR7 million (USD7 million) grant agreement between the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA) and the Uzbek government.

EBRD Director of Nuclear Safety Balthasar Lindauer (left) and Chairman of the Uzbek State Ecology Committee Narzullo Oblomurodov (right) at the signing of the grant agreement (Image: EBRD)

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) established the ERA in 2015 at the request of the European Commission, to tackle the legacy of Soviet uranium mining in region. The account, which became operational in 2016, is supported by contributions from the European Commission, Belgium, Lithuania, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.

The grant agreement was signed on 1 September at the EBRD headquarters in London, UK, by EBRD Director of Nuclear Safety Balthasar Lindauer and Chairman of the State Committee for Ecology and Environmental Protection of Uzbekistan Narzullo Oblomurodov.

The grant will finance the remediation of the facilities at Yangiabad and Charkesar which are in mountains to the east of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

Located at an altitude of 1300 metres in an area with a high risk of seismic activity, and around 70km from Tashkent, Yangiabad was a uranium mining site for nearly 40 years. It is spread across a 50-square-kilometre area and contains about 2.6 million cubic metres of radioactive waste. Planned remediation works include closing four shafts, demolishing contaminated buildings and processing facilities, relocating several waste rock dumps to a central covered dump and other associated activities.

The village of Charkesar, located in the mountains 140km to the east of the Uzbek capital, was a uranium mining site until 1995 and is still home to approximately 3500 people. Planned remediation works at this site include the closure of two shafts and the demolition of abandoned buildings.

The works at the two sites are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023 and will take approximately two years to complete.

"On the basis of an impartial examination and a comprehensive environmental assessment of risks and local conditions, experts have chosen the safest and most suitable options and plans for carrying out reclamation, construction-installation, isolation and protection works of the area," the Uzbek State Ecology Committee said.

"Construction and rehabilitation works within the framework of the project will be carried out with the participation of local and German specialists," it noted.

A EUR2 million grant agreement was signed in October 2021 for preparations for the environmental remediation of the Yangiabad and Charkesar sites. That grant was to support a recently established Project Management Unit (PMU) that will be dealing with the clean-up of the sites. As a first step, the PMU started preparing the necessary tender documentation for remediation works.

Central Asia served as an important source of uranium for the former Soviet Union. Uranium was mined for over 50 years and uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing, and large amounts of radioactively contaminated material were placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. 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. 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.

Work to manage the legacy wastes from historic uranium mining at sites in Shekaftar and Min-Kush in Kyrgyzstan was completed earlier this year. The work was completed on schedule and below the projected budget.

Uzbekistan is the world's seventh-ranking uranium supplier, according to World Nuclear Association, and was a significant source of Russian uranium supply until it gained independence in 1991. Japanese and Chinese joint ventures are active in uranium development in the country. In September 2018, an intergovernmental agreement was signed for construction by Rosatom of two VVER-1200 reactors to be commissioned about 2028, and an electricity generation strategy outlined by the Ministry of Energy in 2020 envisaged 15% of the Uzbekistan's electricity coming from nuclear by 2030.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News