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Tajiks Seek International Aid to Clean Up Radioactive Waste


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DUSHANBE – The Tajik parliament’s ecological commission is requesting international help in cleaning up 50m tonnes of Soviet-era radioactive waste stored at Taboshar (تباشهر), Rustam Latifov (رستم لطیفوف), the commission chairman, said.

Uranium mine tailings at Taboshar in Tajikistan (Photo: P. Rickwood/IAEA)
Steps towards securing millions of tonnes of uranium tailings in abandoned sites in Central Asia are being taken with the support of the IAEA and its Technical Cooperation programme. But Tajikistan, recovering from near economic collapse and a civil war in the 1990’s, 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. The IAEA doesn’t have the resources to undertake management of the tailings sites but can provide the expertise and the knowledge to Tajikistan.

The Taboshar dump and another in Kadzhi-Sai, Kyrgyzstan, pose a region-wide environmental threat, Latifov told RFE/RL, adding, “Tajikistan alone is in no condition to fully close the Taboshar storage site […] A single piece of equipment for closing storage sites costs from $500,000 to $1m (2.4m to 4.8m TJS).”

The area around the former mining and processing site at Taboshar is a serious example of legacy contamination. Over the years since the abandonment building components and scrap materials have been removed from the site piecemeal to the extent that very little is left that can be easily moved by hand. Much of what is left is in a dangerous state and presents a significant physical safety hazard, and possibly a radiological hazard in some cases. The site is dominated by a pile of yellow process residues (tailings) that are uncontained and continue to crode through wind and rain action. More serious is the use by the local population of water contaminated by the seepages as a potable supply and for irrigating food crops. In general, large concentration of radon in the air of industrial objects are not high, however exhalation of radon from the tailings’ surface exceeds the established standard indicating to insufficiently reliable coating of the area with neutral soil (gas sealing). It is well known that the most dangerous radionuclide for the human health is gas exuded on all objects, i.e. radon. This is especially relevant to the tailings, as radon discharge from the tailings exceeds 4-5 times the discharge of radon from underground workings of uranium mines due to high degree of tails decomposition. [Broder J. Merkel, Andrea Hasche-Berger: Uranium, Mining and Hydrogeology]

Unlike nine other Soviet-era radioactive waste storage sites in Sughd Oblast, the Taboshar dump is situated at a high elevation, allowing wind to spread radioactive dust. More than 2,000 people live in the two nearest settlements. The dumps once received radioactive waste from uranium producers throughout the USSR.

In the past week a new programme to stabilise and clean-up such sites in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan was approved by the Eurasian Economic Community. The pilot programme will run from 2013-2018 with a budget of 1.156 billion RUB (US $39.2m or 186.7m TJS), 75% of which will come from Russia’s state-owned Rosatom.

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