IAEA helps Central Asian countries deal with old uranium sites
The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is helping Central Asian countries to take steps toward securing millions of tonnes of uranium tailings – a potential source of radioactive and heavy metal pollution – in abandoned sites.
The sites are the legacy that has accumulated in the region over five decades of operation of uranium mines and mills without proper environment management programmes in place, the Agency said.
Tajikistan, for example, has sites near towns and villages in the north. In Taboshar, a former centre of uranium mining and milling, a hill of more than 1 million tonnes of process residue tailings lies unprotected, vulnerable to erosion by wind and rain, the IAEA warned.
Animals drink from pools of water that gather at the foot of the hill when seasonal rains fall, and children play around it. Some material from the tailings sites has also been used in home construction, according to the Agency, which said Tajikistan is ill-equipped to undertake, on its own, the task of securing the tailings legacy.
An IAEA programme is assisting Tajikistan assess the impact of the sites - a first step towards seeking donor funding to secure them.
“The IAEA doesn't have the resources to undertake management of the tailings sites, but we can provide the expertise and the knowledge to Tajikistan that will assist it best help itself,” said Ana María Cetto, IAEA Deputy Director General and head of its Technical Cooperation Department, who visited the country in May.
Since Tajikistan became a member of the IAEA in 2001 it has received technical assistance in other areas of nuclear and radiation applications to develop diagnostic nuclear medicine, cancer treatment, as well as control of soil erosion and improved land management practices.