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After 1995 many uranium mines were closed and a considerable number of uranium legacy sites were left without appropriate monitoring and maintenance. The programme fits with the Sustainable Development Goals and national development programs.
Sites are concentrated along the tributaries to the Syr Darya River, which runs through the densely populated Fergana Valley, the agricultural centre of the region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Failure to contain this toxic will have severe cross-boundary consequences.
In December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly stressed the importance of the hazardous situation by adopting a Resolution on “The Role of the International Community in Averting the Radiation Threat in Central Asia” The resolution asks the international community for assistance in averting the radiation threat in Central Asia. It emphasizes the importance of adopting preventive and other measures to resolve the problem of radioactive and toxic waste.
Following this resolution a number of actions were taken by the countries themselves but also by the international community. These initiatives were of a technical and financial nature. At the same time meetings took place with the local population to explain and to discuss the plans.
A Strategic Master Plan listing hotspots and remediation priorities in Central Asia has been developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) together with the countries concerned and representatives of international organisations such as the EU. This plan provides a solid basis for further work. It will be officially signed in September in Vienna. The document will be updated frequently taking new developments into account.
Through the Instrument for Nuclear Safety and Cooperation (INSC), the EU has allocated a total funding of EUR 14.7 million to implement prepare for at work at seven priority uranium legacy sites in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Environmental impact assessments (EIA) and feasibility studies (FS) are finished for the areas of Min-Kush, and Shekaftar in the Kyrgyz republic as well as for Charkesar and Yangiabad in Uzbekistan. This preparatory work at Istiqlol and Degmay in Tajikistan and at Mailu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan will be completed in 2018 / 2019.
Remediation and financing
These steps are the basis for the next phase for which the EU has allocated EUR 16.4 million i.e. the carrying out of the environmental remediation works. It is now clear what measures need to be taken and what they will cost.
For that purpose a special multi-donor Environmental Remediation Fund has been set up by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that will finance the environmental remediation works. The fund is operational in the three countries and the necessary project implementation structures are being set up. The EBRD has a long time experience in financing similar programmes.
The European Commission is working together with the partner countries and with the EBRD, IAEA and UNDP towards an international donors' conference to pool resources for the implementation of the environmental remediation programme. This event is scheduled for 2018. The current funding gap is around EUR 70 million that needs to be covered by common efforts by the international donor community.