9 Nov (NucNet): The European Commission has increased by €10m its contribution to a fund which supports efforts to overcome the legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said.
Belgium, Switzerland, the US and Norway also pledged significant contributions, and Lithuania made a donation. The EBRD said this is sufficient to extend the work of the fund to additional contaminated sites, although more will be required to tackle all priority sites in the region.
The Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia fund was established in 2015 at the initiative of the European Commission and is managed by the EBRD. The fund has started operating in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Remediation work will start in 2019 at four sites in the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan.
Central Asia served as an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. Uranium was mined for over 50 years and uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing there. The EBRD said a large amount of radioactively-contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done neither prior to nor after closure of the mining and milling operations.
The EBRD said the amount of radioactively-contaminated material accumulated in the region is a threat to the environment and to the health of the population. Many of the uranium legacy sites in Central Asia are concentrated along the tributaries of 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.
The goal is to help these countries to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by the past uranium production.