MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Central Asian uranium disaster addressed at high-level forum

Published by MAC on 2009-07-16

Are international agencies now taking seriously the huge threat of abandoned Central Asian uranium tailings? See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9227

High-level forum stresses need to tackle radioactive waste in Central Asia

UNDP

29 June 2009

A high-level forum organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wrapped up in Geneva today with the adoption of a joint declaration stressing the need to tackle the challenge of radioactive waste in Central Asia.

The meeting brought together over 100 representatives from the region, international organizations, donors and others to discuss the problems associated with the uranium tailing deposits - left over from mining during the Cold War in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - which contain more than 800 million tons of radioactive and toxic waste.

These countries have not been able to deal with the problem adequately due to lack of resources and capacity.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said the legacy of nuclear waste and related environmental management issues has a direct impact on human development in the region.

"As most of the uranium tailing sites are located in densely populated and natural-disaster prone areas of Central Asia's largest river basins, they represent a major potential risk to the region's water supply and the health of millions of people," she said in a statement to the forum.

"Many more are likely to suffer if uranium contamination moves downstream to other areas," she added.

Neal Walker, UNDP Resident Representative, said these tailings are not only highly toxic and dangerous to human health, but they are extremely vulnerable to, for examples, earthquakes - which are inevitable and only a matter of time.

Among the outcomes of the forum, he noted strengthening regulatory frameworks and national capacity to address the problem, as well as a call for public-private partnerships to bring in investments and to explore opportunities to further exploit the tailings for economic gain.

"With the publicity around the event, we have generated important public awareness of the problem and broad political support for the implementation of solutions," said Mr. Walker.


Central Asian states to secure potential 'dirty bomb' waste

AFP

29 June 2009

GENEVA - Four Central Asian nations agreed on Monday to secure some 800 million tonnes of radioactive and toxic uranium waste sludge that could be used to make a "dirty" radiological bomb, a UN agency said.

"It has been explained to us that the kind of material that exists can be used for dirty bombs, that's the kind of risk that exists today," UN Development Programme deputy regional director Jens Wandel told journalists.

Waste from uranium mines exploited during the Soviet era is held in the open behind fragile dams and also threatens water supplies for millions of people in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, according to the UNDP.

Most of the uranium tailings sites, similar to slag heaps from coal mines, are in densely populated and "disaster prone" Central Asian river basins according to the UNDP.

"They represent a major potential risk to the region's water supply and the health of millions of people," said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

The four central Asian countries and several international and regional agencies agreed on a joint declaration to cooperate in tackling the problem during a meeting in Geneva.

They also urged the international community to support their attempts to deal with the uranium tailings.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov warned that without securing storage as a first step, the health and environmental consequences would "be as dangerous as the use of any weapons."

He told journalists that international control or monitoring of storage would also act as "a guarantee".



Central Asians seek help to clear Cold War waste

Reuters

29 June 2009

GENEVA - Four Central Asian countries called on Monday for international help from governments and business in clearing toxic nuclear waste left over from the Cold War when they formed part of the Soviet Union.

The appeal from the four -- Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- was backed at a one-day meeting in Geneva by United Nations agencies, several Western governments, and the European Union's executive Commission.

"We, the governments of Central Asia, have shown our readiness to work together to tackle this serious and dangerous threat not only to our region but beyond," Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov told a news conference at the end of the talks.

"We look to the big powers who have experience in this area to share their knowledge with us and to private firms to invest in the projects that require modern and safe technology," said Chudinov, whose country is especially affected by the waste.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which sponsored the meeting, says the problem of what are called uranium tailings and toxic nuclear waste in Central Asia is acute and needs an urgent solution.

The tailings, it says in a document for the meeting, present serious potential danger for the people and the environment of the region through contamination of ground water and rivers from the toxic ponds and dumps where the waste is stored.

The waste accumulated because the then Central Asian republics -- prone to earthquakes and extreme weather -- were the Soviet Union's main source of the uranium it used for manufacturing its nuclear arsenal.

The residue from wide-scale mining and processing, often near major populations centres, was only poorly protected against natural disasters and there were few precautions against seepage into water systems, the UNDP document says.

With the break-up in 1991 of the Soviet system, which provided some central control over the waste dumps, the new cash-strapped countries that emerged were left to cope separately with the waste problem.

Chudinov told the Monday news conference that the joint declaration of the four, which followed a conference in April in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, showed that they were now determined to work together on the issue.

"I think this should make it easier for the international community to boost the help that many countries and agencies have already been giving us," he said.

Among countries that have already been providing some assistance to the four countries are Germany, Norway, Finland and the Czech Republic along with the World Bank and government agencies from the United States, Russia and Japan.

The 27-nation European Union has also been supporting safe disposal programmes in the four countries, and pledged on Monday to boost its efforts.

The Russian government was not represented at the meeting but a senior official of its nuclear energy agency ROSATOM told delegates it would help with the disposal programmes. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

 

 

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