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Millions of tonnes of radioactive waste from Soviet-times, Istiklol (Tabošar), Tajikistan


Description:

The first Soviet uranium mine was established in Taboshar (Istiklol) during the Second World War [1]. Taboshar  (Istiklol) used to be a mining “closed-city”, strategic areas closed to the general public by the central government [3]. 

The Taboshar uranium mine site is in the Ferghana Valley  close the Uzbek-Tajik border about 40 km due north of Khujand [2]. 

The site consists of a non-rehabilitated open mine pit, dismantled production buildings, and three tailing sites with 12 million tonnes  (about 3000 m high) [1,2]. 

in total, there are 55 million tonnes  accumulated in the Northern Taijistan  [1,2,4].

The town of Taboshar with its 12,000 inhabitants is only few kilometres away  from the 12 million tonnes of nuclear tailings [2]. Health officials confirmed they have recorded higher numbers of cancer cases and skin diseases in two towns Taboshar and Dehmoi. They suspect the rise in illness is linked to people's proximity to the waste sites [1]. uranium waste remains in uncovered and unsecured sites [3]. 

Known as Taboshar Hill, these are mounds of uranium waste. They sit uncovered, with no fence between the road and the waste [3]. The near by soil and water are contaminated. Locals use it for livestock grazing and feeding [3]. 

According to local initiatives for nuclear taillings issues in Taboshar the challenge of pollution is related to risks like earthquakes and mudflows, heavy rainfall or snow melt [3] . 

In November 2011, OSCE - Uranium Tailings: Local Problems, Regional Consequences, Global Solution, organized a community activity involving neighbourhoods, government and the enterprise Tabosharsky “Vostokredmet” responsible for the legacy site [3]. 

Together they manually cleaned the mudflow channel, which normally drains a mudflow through the area. However, there is still a risk  of uranium waste spilling into the Utkensu River [3]. Other local initiatives included installation of about 60 warning signs and fencing off the open pit uranium ore where people used to swim [3]. 

More substantial work on remediation and development is needed in this case. The total cost of such a big amount of nuclear waste clean-up is estimated to few millions of dollars [1,3].

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that "due to the magnitude of the problem, it is hard to envisage that this issue will be solved in the near future." [4]. The UNECE (UN Economic Commission for Europe) and the EBRD have been involved.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Millions of tonnes of radioactive waste from Soviet-times, Istiklol (Tabošar), Tajikistan
Country:Tajikistan
State or province:Sughd Region
Location of conflict:Istiklol (Tabošar)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tailings from mines
Uranium extraction
Specific commodities:Uranium

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Uranium mining in Asia started during World War II in Tabošar, the present-day Istiklol in the north of Tajikistan. According to a decree by Soviet leadership in 1942, four tonnes of uranium were supposed to be produced in just a few months, to supply the raw material for the first Soviet nuclear bomb. As in Kyrgyzstan, uranium mining and processing in Tajikistan was also treated as a state secret by the Soviet regime. When the last mine was closed in 1992, a total of 20,000 tonnes of uranium had been extracted [4]. Taboshar was the first of many officially secret Soviet closed cities related to uranium mining and production. The main issue now is the cleaning up of the million tons of uranium tailings.

In 2019 is was announced that the EBRD would provide 33.1 million Euros for remediation of uranium mining legacy sites in Tajikistan. [5].

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:18,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1992
Relevant government actors:UNDP, UNEP, OSCE, NATO, UNECE and REC have joined forces in the Environment and Security (ENVSEC)
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:OSCE - Uranium Tailings: Local Problems, Regional Consequences, Global Solution

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Potential: Accidents
Other Health impactsSkin diseases; rise in illness is linked to people's proximity to the waste sites
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the mine has been officially closed in 1992, the amount of waste ---12 million tonnes---accumulated and not properly stored is an enormous concern. Including potential accidents and land run-offs.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Jamestown Foundation (members belong mostly to US business and the military professions). 2012.The Legacy of Soviet Nuclear Industry in Tajikistan: Opportunities and Challenges, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 81. By: Mark Vinson

April 30, 2012

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty 2009: Tajikistan's Former Soviet Nuclear Sites Pose Threat To Nearby Villages
https://www.rferl.org/a/Tajikistans_Former_Soviet_Nuclear_Sites_Pose_Threat_To_Nearby_Villages/1604737.html

[2] World Nuclear Association 2017: Uranium in Tajikistan
https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/tajikistan.aspx

Nuclear Free Future Foundation: ASIA: SECRET ORE
http://www.nuclear-free.com/uranium-atlas-article/articles/asia-secret-ore.html

[4] PHY. ORG 2012: UN sounds alarm on unsecured uranium waste in Tajikistan
https://phys.org/news/2012-12-alarm-unsecured-uranium-tajikistan.html

Nuclear Free Future Foundation: ASIA: SECRET ORE

[3] Center for a better life: Environment & Security: Uranium Waste in Tajikistan, by Laura Rio, ENVSEC
http://livebettermagazine.com/article/environment-security-initiative-dealing-with-uranium-waste-in-tajikistan/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[5] EBRD to provide 33.1 million Euros for remediation of uranium mining legacy sites in Tajikistan. 11 Dec. 2019. AKI press.
https://for.kg/news-627131-en.html

Meta information

Contributor:KH and JMA ICTA-UAB
Last update10/02/2021

Images

 

12 million tonnes and 300 meters high radioactive waste in the town of in Taboshar

Source: Radio Liberty 2009