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Legacy of Uranium Tailings and Environmental Security in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
Science for Peace project - SfP 981742
The objective of this Science for Peace project is the effective management of uranium industry wastes in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, for the prevention of health risks and environmental damage.
Uranium ore mining and processing started in these former Soviet Republics after the Second World War and lasted for almost half a century. The exploration, extraction and processing of uranium resulted in high levels of technologically enhanced natural radioactivity (TENORM). Extensive mining and milling activities also left behind large amounts of uranium tailing materials and waste rock deposits, often dumped in inhabited areas or in their close vicinity.
The amount of uranium tailing wastes exceeds 100 million tons in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while the amount of waste rock materials is several times larger than uranium mill tailing deposits. Given the absence of waste management in most of these areas, there is considerable potential for the spread of contamination beyond existing contaminated sites. However, no comprehensive evaluation of the local population’s exposure to radioactivity has been undertaken so far. This SfP project aims at filling this shortage.
The project is expected to contribute to the establishment and upgrading of environmental radioactivity laboratories and to the training of personnel, especially young scientists, in the use of contemporary equipment, survey methods and protocols.
In order to decrease public exposure to radiation, efforts will be made to alert local communities of the results obtained in early phases of the project, in particular on indoor radon levels in homes and public buildings that have been and are being measured in all four participating countries. Officials will be encouraged to inform the local population in an appropriate manner about the existing state of drinking water supplies near uranium tailing or waste ore deposits and to make recommendations to lower the population’s exposure to radioactivity by adopting relevant and simple countermeasures. This project lays the foundation for the establishment of nation-wide radon survey programmes in all four concerned countries.
This SfP project is embedded in the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC). In this framework, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) provide assistance to countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia through projects aimed at tackling environmental issues that can threaten regional security.