Funds pledged for uranium legacy cleanup

12 November 2018

The international community has raised additional funds to support efforts to overcome the legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia. Remediation work will start in 2019 at four sites in the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan, but more funds will be required to tackle all high priority sites in the region, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said.

The Environmental Remediation Account aims to assist Central Asian countries to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by past uranium production (Image: EBRD)

A pledging event for the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia held on 8 November at the EBRD's London headquarters saw the European Union increase its contribution by EUR10 million (USD11.3 million). Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and the USA also pledged "significant" contributions, and Lithuania also made a donation, the EBRD said. This is sufficient to extend the work of the fund to additional contaminated sites but more will be required to tackle all high priority sites in the region, it added.

Central Asia - particularly in the mountainous areas above the Syr Darya river and the Ferghana valley, where the borders of the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan intersect - was an important uranium-producing region in the former Soviet Union for over 50 years from the mid-1940s. Most of the uranium mining and ore processing activities had ceased by the mid-1990s, leaving a large accumulation of radioactively contaminated material in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Very little remediation of either mining sites or tailings storage facilities has been carried out.

The Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia was established in 2015, as an initiative of the European Union, and became operational in 2016. It is managed by the EBRD and aims to pool donor funds to assist the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate some of the most hazardous sites left by uranium production in their countries.

A Strategic Master Plan (SMP), which contains detailed analysis as well as cost and schedule estimates for priority remediation tasks, has been developed with the Central Asian countries by core members of the IAEA's Coordination Group for Uranium Legacy Sites. The EBRD has concluded framework agreements with the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan creating the legal basis for ERA operations.

According to the SMP, remediation of the seven sites identified as the highest priority will cost an estimated EUR85 million. The overall cost of remediating all the uranium legacy sites, together with supporting activities, is estimated to be around EUR210 million. Some funding had already been committed when the plan was published in 2017, including an initial contribution of EUR16.5 million from the European Union, but a shortfall of EUR180 million remained to be found.

Balthasar Lindauer, EBRD's director for nuclear safety, said the commitment from the international community would boost progress with the work, which will enter the implementation period next year.

"While the first steps have been promising, more remains to be done and we need to maintain the very good cooperation of all partners," he said.

"Work on environmental remediation is at a crucial stage," Adriaan van der Meer, chair of the Environmental Remediation Account Fund Assembly, said. "Most plans for actual remediation in priority areas in Central Asia are now ready and independently reviewed. I support the call from the Central Asian countries to the international community to make the necessary financial means available so that the actual environmental clean-up can start as soon as possible. By doing so the programme will move to the next phase."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News