European bank continues uranium remediation work in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [EBRD] is continuing to help Central Asian countries clean up the uranium mines that the Soviet Union left behind. [EBRD]

LONDON -- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said it is continuing to help Central Asian countries remediate the toxic uranium tailings that the Soviet Union created and left behind.

Recent developments will help Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, impoverished countries with abandoned Soviet-era uranium mines and daunting environmental and remediation bills.

The Russian regime, the successor state to the USSR, has done little to aid post-Soviet countries with the defunct, toxic mines, which also pose a security risk because of their remaining uranium.

Central Asia has about 1 billion tonnes of uranium tailings, according to a 2017 EU estimate. While most of the Soviet mines were closed by 1995, Russia did little remediation before or after abandoning those milling and mining sites.

The Soviet regime mined uranium in Central Asia for more than 50 years and imported uranium ore from other countries for processing.

Aid for Tajikistan

"In Tajikistan, work on the preparation and eventual delivery of remediation can begin now that a framework agreement with the EBRD has entered into force," the EBRD said in a statement Monday (May 4), without giving the date the agreement took effect.

The pact provides the legal basis for carrying out remediation projects in Tajikistan.

The EBRD established the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA) in 2015 to help Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan clean up some of the most toxic sites of Soviet-era uranium production.

The sites remain largely unsecured, with potentially enough low-grade uranium for terrorists' misuse.

Tajikistan has expressed concern about the presence of enough left-over uranium at its tailing dumps to enable the manufacture of "dirty bombs".

Aid for Kyrgyzstan

In another step toward implementation, EBRD and Kyrgyz officials have signed a contract to carry out remediation in Shekaftar, Kyrgyzstan, the EBRD said without giving the date of the contract.

The Shekaftar complex contains "three closed mines and eight mining-waste disposal areas that contain about 700,000 cubic metres of waste from mining operations. Radioactive waste-rock dumps, scattered around the village and next to a school, pose a risk to public health", the EBRD noted.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and of the lucrative uranium mine, formerly thriving Shekaftar has fallen on hard times, with a 70% unemployment rate.

Plans for cleaning up the old mine will start with "the closure of six shafts and the relocation of five waste-rock dumps to an existing dump at a more remote location", the EBRD said.

Economic assistance

The EBRD also is contributing aid to help countries, including those in Central Asia, shaken by the coronavirus pandemic.

Its efforts to increase aid include "rapid response and recovery programmes as well as the continuation of vital work such as the Bank's engagement in nuclear safety and decommissioning", the organisation said.

Since 1993, the ERA has helped remediate the harmful environmental legacy of the USSR in locations ranging from Chernobyl (Ukraine) to Bulgaria, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Russia itself. It receives contributions from the European Commission, Belgium, Switzerland, the United States, Norway and Lithuania.

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