Central Asian Nations Address Uranium Mining Legacy

A Regional Meeting on Safe Management of Uranium Production Legacy Sites has taken place June 12-15 in Vienna.

Delegates and representatives from Central Asian countries, international organizations, donors, and other stakeholders discussed working together to develop measures to address the challenges of dealing with tailings from uranium mining in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in order to reduce the risks associated with these legacy sites.

Uranium tailing deposits left over from mining in Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan contain more than 800 million tons of radioactive and toxic waste. Most of the uranium tailing sites are located in populated and natural-disaster prone areas of Central Asia's largest river basins and pose a risk to the region's water supply and the health of local communities. Experts agree that radiological hazards that may exist are chronic long term exposure hazards, not acute hazards. Moreover, toxic and chemical hazards from the heavy metals associated with these uranium wastes are of equal concern.

In his opening address, Pil-Soo Hahn, Director of the IAEA's Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety said, "Our challenge in this meeting is to understand each other's problems and perspectives, to look for opportunities to build synergisms."

The IAEA, with support from the European Commission (EC), organized the meeting to consider viable solutions for closer cooperation between the international community and the IAEA Member States of Central Asia. International organizations and donors, including the United Nations Development Programme, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Commission and the Eurasian Economic Community, also participated in the meeting.

Background

In 2004 the Central Asian Republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan requested technical assistance from the IAEA to deal with the legacy of the former uranium industry. Over the last several years, the IAEA has conducted a number of projects in Central Asia to build national capacity in the areas of regulatory infrastructure, analytical services, radiation protection, environmental sampling /monitoring, and safety assessments. The purpose is to quantify and reduce radiological risks to the public and the environment.

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Last update: 17 November 2014