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BISHKEK (TCA) — The stage has been set for the start of remedial work at two uranium legacy sites in Kyrgyzstan, part of a wider plan to deal with the harmful legacy of Soviet-era uranium mining and processing in Central Asia, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on April 29.

Work is now expected to begin this year, initially at the Shekaftar site, following a grant agreement signed between the Kyrgyz authorities and the EBRD. A grant is provided by the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), a fund initiated by the European Commission and managed by the EBRD.

The agreement was signed on behalf of the EBRD by its Director for Nuclear Safety, Balthasar Lindauer, and the Kyrgyz Minister for Emergency Situations, Nurbolot Mirzahmedov. It allows for the start of a tender process for the selection of a contractor for the work at the Min-Kush and Shekaftar sites. These two sites have been identified as top priorities because of the environmental risks they pose.

After meetings in Bishkek with the Kyrgyz authorities on April 29, Mr Lindauer said: “We are grateful to the Kyrgyz government for the strong partnership we have established. Today we have taken important decisions to start work and reduce the risks to the people of the Kyrgyz Republic from these old mining sites.”

The ERA was set up in 2015 to rehabilitate high-priority sites in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Framework Agreements have been signed with all three countries.

Central Asia served as an important source of uranium in the former Soviet Union. Uranium was mined for over 50 years and uranium ore was also imported from other countries for processing. A large amount of radioactively-contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done before or after the closure of the mining and milling operations.

The EBRD is the only international financial institution engaged in nuclear safety and decommissioning programs and has been active in the field since 1993. ERA is the latest fund managed by the EBRD and it is supported by contributions from the European Commission, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway and Lithuania.

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