The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is setting up a new fund to deal with the legacy of Soviet-era uranium mining and processing in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The new account with the name Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia is being established at the request of the European Commission, which is providing an initial €8 million with additional funding under consideration. The fund will finance projects to rehabilitate high-priority sites in the countries where it will operate.
Central Asia served as an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. This led to a large amount of radioactive contaminated material from the mining industry being placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done.
The accumulated amount of radioactive contaminated material in the region is a threat to the environment and to the health of the population. Many of the uranium legacy 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 which is shared by the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The EBRD has significant expertise in the management of multilateral funds and the efficient delivery of large nuclear safety assistance programs. Currently, the bank operates seven multilateral funds with total donor contributions of more than €4 billion. The bank and the European Commission have been working closely together on nuclear safety programs since the 1990s.
EBRD director, nuclear safety Vince Novak said: “This new fund is recognition of the urgent need to act in regards to the uranium mines and deposits in Central Asia, and of the expertise and know-how the EBRD has accumulated in the area of nuclear decommissioning. We welcome the initiative by the European Commission and at the same time invite other donors to join this highly important effort.”
The EBRD has been managing nuclear safety and decommissioning funds on behalf of the international community since 1992, when the G7 decided to create the Nuclear Safety Account to deal with the legacy of Soviet-era nuclear facilities and equipment. In the following years the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, three international decommissioning support funds for Bulgaria, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic and the ‘Nuclear Window’ of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Support Fund were also established and placed under the management of the EBRD Nuclear Safety Department.