High-level forum stresses need to tackle radioactive waste in Central Asia

Measuring radiation-contaminated soil. Photo: IRIN/OCHA

29 June 2009 – A high-level forum organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wrapped up in Geneva today with the adoption of a joint declaration stressing the need to tackle the challenge of radioactive waste in Central Asia.

The meeting brought together over 100 representatives from the region, international organizations, donors and others to discuss the problems associated with the uranium tailing deposits – left over from mining during the Cold War in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – which contain more than 800 million tons of radioactive and toxic waste.

These countries have not been able to deal with the problem adequately due to lack of resources and capacity.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said the legacy of nuclear waste and related environmental management issues has a direct impact on human development in the region.

“As most of the uranium tailing sites are located in densely populated and natural-disaster prone areas of Central Asia’s largest river basins, they represent a major potential risk to the region’s water supply and the health of millions of people,” she said in a statement to the forum.

“Many more are likely to suffer if uranium contamination moves downstream to other areas,” she added.

Neal Walker, UNDP Resident Representative, said these tailings are not only highly toxic and dangerous to human health, but they are extremely vulnerable to, for examples, earthquakes – which are inevitable and only a matter of time.

Among the outcomes of the forum, he noted strengthening regulatory frameworks and national capacity to address the problem, as well as a call for public-private partnerships to bring in investments and to explore opportunities to further exploit the tailings for economic gain.

“With the publicity around the event, we have generated important public awareness of the problem and broad political support for the implementation of solutions,” said Mr. Walker.


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