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«Radioactive Tailings in Kyrgyzstan: Challenges and Solutions Kalia Moldogazieva* ABSTR ACT The legacy of uranium production threatens the environment ...»

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China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 8, No. 2 (2010) pp. 203 - 219

© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program

ISSN: 1653-4212

Radioactive Tailings in Kyrgyzstan:

Challenges and Solutions

Kalia Moldogazieva*


The legacy of uranium production threatens the environment and public

security in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries. The key ecological

problems include: pollution of the environment with radionuclides;

increasing risk of RAW tailing dumps destruction due to climate change, natural disasters and anthropogenic catastrophes which are typical for mountainous and seismic regions, and large land avalanches in certain areas of the country.

Keywords • Uranium • Mining • Processing • Kyrgyzstan • Tailings • Dump • Radioactive • Fuel Cycle • Contamination Introduction As a result of many years of uranium mining and processing in Kyrgyzstan, there is more than 132 mln.m³ of accumulated waste which is stored in 37 mountain dumps. According to the data provided by the State Cadastre of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2004, tailings dumps contain 48,3 mln.m³ of radioactive wastes. These uranium wastes were produced since the mid-1940’s in the former Soviet Union, mainly for military purposes.

The territory of Kyrgyzstan, which in the past was the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialistic Republic, experienced a rapid expansion of uranium mining and processing activities in those years.

The main deposits of radioactive ore processed in Kyrgyzstan are presented on the map (Figure 1). Currently, in Mailuu-Suu (in the South of Kyrgyzstan), there are 23 radioactive tailings dumps and 13 dumps of cull ores. In the tailings, there is a large mass of ionium (Th230) with a half-life period of 80,000 years, radium (Ra-226) with half-life period of 1600 years, and residual uranium and its long-lived isotopes. Therefore, * Kalia Moldogazieva is Director of the Human Development Center, "Tree of Life", Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

204 Kalia Moldogazieva radioactivity of the tailings dumps will remain for many centuries.

Considerable volumes of uranium processed at the two hydro- metallurgical plants were supplied from deposits from other countries, including Eastern Germany. After the closure of the mine in the village Kadji-Sai in northern Kyrgyzstan, there were two uranium ash disposal areas and one disposal area with buried radioactive equipment covered by a 1m layer of clay.

There are some other deposits and radioactive ore-processing mines in Kyrgyzstan such as the former Leninabad Mining-Chemical Plant in southern Kyrgyzstan - in Shekaftar, Kyzyl-Jar; the Kara-Balta Mining Plant (KMP) in Kara-Balta town, and the villages of Min-Kush, Kadji- Sai, as well as the Kyrgyz Mining Metallurgical and Chemical Metallurgical plants in Ak-Tiuz and Orlovka villages.

Figure 1. Map on RAW (Radioactive Wastes) Tailing D umps Location on the Territory of Kyrgyzstan.

1 The legacy of uranium production threatens the environment and public security in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries. The key

ecological problems are2:

• Pollution of the environment with radionuclides in the regions of radioactive waste storage and storage of other toxic elements;

1 Isakbek Asangalievich Torgoev and Yurii Georgievich Alieshin, Ekologiya gornopromyshlennogo kompleksa Kyrgyzstana [Ecology of the Mining Complex of Kyrgyzstan] (Bishkek: Ilim, 2001).

2 Ibid.

THE CHINA AND EURASIA FORUM QUARTERLY • Volume 8, No. 2 Radioactive Tailings in Kyrgyzstan: Challenges and Solutions 205

• Increasing risk of RAW tailing dumps destruction due to the climate change, natural disasters and anthropogenic catastrophes which are typical for mountainous and seismic regions.

• Large land avalanches in the areas of the Koi-Tash, Tektonik and Izolit RAW dumps on the slopes of Mailu-Suu river basin. This is arguably the most dangerous threat posed by the legacy of uranium production because large avalanches in these areas could destroy tailings dumps and contaminate the Mailu-Suu River and transboundary waters downstream with radioactive materials.

Details of Research In 1998 and 1999, I was able to conduct research on development trends in two provinces of Kyrgyzstan: “North-South: ecological and demographical aspects of sustainable human development formation in Kyrgyzstan”. Selection of the two provinces - Jalal-Abad in the south and Issyk-Kul in the north - was justified by a number of factors: differences in their industrial and agricultural sectors, activities of different investment projects, presence of ethno-cultural peculiarities.

Photo 1. Photo of a Uranium Dump Taken by Author.

–  –  –

Photo 2.Researchers at a Uranium Dump.

Four settlements were selected for study - one town and one village in Jalal-Abad and Issyk-Kul - in accordance with the presence of considerable ecological and social problems typical for the whole republic as well. 23 indicators were analyzed during the 3 years period. And then correlative and regressive analysis were conducted in accordance with 17 indicators: density of the population, birth rate, death rate, natural population growth, infant children's mortality, minimal income, unemployment level, availability of medical and sanitary assistance, coverage of the population by the safe drinking water supply, radiation level, immunization percentage of the population from 6 infection diseases, level of pregnant women services, percentage of new born babies born with low weight of body, expected average span of life, sickness rate, sickness rate with cancerous diseases, infant babies sickness rate with inborn anomaly.

We were able to make the radiation measurements in all settlements.

Measurement of gamma background was conducted by radiometer SRPThe normal radiation level should not exceed 30 microroentgen/hour.

Findings on Tailing Dumps On the territory of Mailu-Suu town and its countryside, we researched 20 tailing dumps and 5 disposal areas of uranium as well as different rayons of the town. Higher levels of gamma radiation were revealed on the following tailing dumps: № 4, 5, 18 (from 30-500 micro-roentgen/hour) and 5 disposal areas (disposal areas III, V, XI, XII, XIII - up to 300 THE CHINA AND EURASIA FORUM QUARTERLY • Volume 8, No. 2 Radioactive Tailings in Kyrgyzstan: Challenges and Solutions 207 micro-roentgen/hour). Research on radioactivity in the town has shown that there are areas with higher gamma radiation, namely, in the northern part of the city on the Karagach locality and Nekrasov str, 4/4 up to 250 micro-roentgen/hour. The disposal area № 5 is located in the center of this area, where the level of gamma radiation reaches 250 microroentgen/hour. In the central part of the city on the Pravoberejnaya str near the bridge and garages, the gamma background is more than 3000 micro-roentgen/hour. I n the southern part of the town near the Bus Station on the public transport stop, we measured up to 1700 microroentgen/hour.

Research conducted in the Suzak village has shown that radiation levels comply with natural radiation background 9-15 microroentgen/hour. Similarly, the gamma background of Tilekmat village in Issyk-Kul province was equal to 19-23 micro-roentgen/hour, which also complies with natural radiation background.

On the territory of Kadji-Sai town and its countryside we researched the following: one tailings dump; the part of the territory of the former mine “Tsentral’naya” where ore with a high level of uranium was mined;

and on the territory of Kadji-Sai Electrical Plant (KEP). On the KEP territory, there are distinct locations where the level of gamma background is 60-170 microroentgen/hour, and we measured 60-170 microroentgen/hour at the “Tsentral’naya” mine. The gamma background on selected points of the tailing dump area is not supposed to exceed 31 microroentgen/hour.

Gamma background measurements in residential areas of Kadji-Sai town (19-27 microroentgen/hour) were within the norms of natural background radiation. In the upper part of the town at the purification facilities, the measurement was 32-36 microroentgen/hour. Therefore, the radiation situation in the Mailu-Suu town and its countryside were basically satisfactory, excluding the localities mentioned above (Karagach, Nekrasova, Pravoberezhnaya). The gamma radiation levels in those cases were elevated because the population used uraniumcontaining ore as the construction material for individual and public buildings. Higher levels of gamma background at tailings dumps and disposal areas are explained by the presence in the disposal areas of ore containing sufficiently high concentration of uranium, and insufficient or absent covering layers of tailings dumps in a number of localities.

The most dangerous threat is posed by tailings dumps № 3 and 18, located near the Mailu-Suu river basin on account of the frequency of natural disasters (avalanches, earthquakes, floods) in recent years in the area. The non-observance of sanitary-protective layers of tailing dumps and disposal areas (absence of fences) deserves special concern: during our expedition we observed how the local population used these areas for the livestock grazing and other activities.

THE CHINA AND EURASIA FORUM QUARTERLY • Summer 2010 208 Kalia Moldogazieva Study of radiation situation in production facilities of KEP and the “Tsentral’naya” mine (currently non-operated) in Kadji-Sai town indicate elevated levels of radiation. The population of Kadji-Say is also exposed to radiation by extracting copper and other metals from the equipment, wires, metals located at the mine in order to sell the materials to middle men for a comparatively low price. The danger of this activity is not taken into consideration by locals; jobless people somehow have to survive. My assistant responsible for measurements was able to take a picture of people of people stealing the copper in the mine. These people turned their faces and requested not to take any pictures.

As was stated previously, full correlative and regressive analysis was conducted on 17 indicators.

Positive correlation of indicators was revealed as for the population density (17 indicators) and birth rate (21 indicators) with average expected span of life (9 indicators). Correlation coefficients equaled about +0,801 and 0,729 accordingly.

This value could be explained as follows:

the standard of living is better in urban areas with higher population densities and better access to qualified medical services, access to which increases the average life span. There is a negative correlation (-0,793) between infant mortality and income level of incomes: higher incomes were correlated with lower rates of infant mortality.

A clear, positive correlation (+0,938) was observed between indicators of maximum permissible discharge and general sickness rate among the population, whereas, higher air pollutions leads to higher rates of illness.

There is a negative correlation (-0,729) between average expected life span with sickness rate of cancerous diseases. There is also strong positive correlation (+0,938) between radiation level and infant mortality due to inborn anomalies meaning that the higher the radiation level, the more infant mortality due to inborn anomalies was observed. Correlation of other comparable indicators was weak or the number of values was insufficient.

Therefore, the most important external factors for the indicators of infants’ rate mortality, general sickness rate and infants’ mortality from inborn anomalies are maximum permissible discharge, minimal income level and the radiation level. Cancerous diseases sickness rate also contributes strongly to the decrease of expected life span.

During the mission in 1998, we found that Mailu-Suu inhabitants are more active in comparison with Kadji-Sai, and there is a potential in the form of Mailu-Suu Lamp Plant, which produced 150 mln lamps for export in 1997, mainly to eastern countries. The most prevailing ecological problem here are the tailings dumps. After our mission, in 1998 a number of international agencies with participation of the Ministry on Environmental Protection proposed projects on strengthening protective and restoration measures on tailings dumps and disposal areas. In the THE CHINA AND EURASIA FORUM QUARTERLY • Volume 8, No. 2 Radioactive Tailings in Kyrgyzstan: Challenges and Solutions 209 mass media, there were statements about allocating considerable financial resources to solve this problem. In Kadji-Sai the social situation is worse although I have met the deputy chairman of the Village Council who informed me that financial resources have been allocated for renovation the purification facilities at the Electrical Plant that produces diode tubes.

There are also many jobless people who are in a desperate situation, abuse alcohol, and leave these places. Other people continue small scale trading activities. There is a Department on job placement for unemployed people that opened with the assistance of German Technical Assistance (GTZ). In Kadji-Sai, there is a primary need in social and economical measures to restore the town rather than address ecological issues, although control, monitoring and improvement of fences are essential. These two towns could serve as the monuments of irrational extensive use of natural resources, where the highest priority was the economy, without consideration of the far-reaching ecological consequences and passive involvement of the general public in decisionmaking process.

Social Survey in the Jalal-Abad and Issyk-Kul Provinces In the summer of 1997, a social survey was conducted in these two provinces. The questionnaire was prepared in two languages - Russian and Kyrgyz. In Suzak village where the majority of the population is Uzbek ethnic group, the survey was conducted with assistance from a local doctor who knows the Uzbek language. The questionnaire consisted

of 55 questions distributed into the following groups:

1. General level of public awareness in the field of ecological problems.

2. Questions on health conditions of people in the area.

3. Harmful habits and life style.

4. Family planning issues.

5. Social conditions of the people participated in the survey.

6. Migration.

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