Governments seek to avoid radioactive catastrophe in Central Asia

29 Jun 2009

High-Level International Forum reaches unanimous agreement on joint declaration to consolidate efforts to resolve problems of radioactive and toxic waste in the region

Geneva - More than 100 high-level Central Asian country delegates and representatives from international organizations, donors, diplomatic corps and other stakeholders met in Geneva today to develop concrete measures to address the challenge of radioactive waste in Central Asia. 

Uranium tailing deposits left over from mining during the cold war in Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan contain more than 800 million tons of radioactive and toxic waste.  Much of this waste sits in precarious ponds held back by unstable dams and alongside international rivers and watersheds. Overstrained budgets and lack of capacity have prevented these countries from dealing adequately with the problem.  UNDP organized the Geneva conference as part of an attempt to identify viable solutions and to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

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,” said Clark in a statement to the participants of the forum.  “Many more are likely to suffer if uranium contamination moves downstream to other areas.”

Igor Chudinov, Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, said his country adheres to the principles of nuclear non-proliferation.  “The potential harm from uranium tailings in our countries is a serious and dangerous threat that needs urgent attention. We need to develop security for our people and support their human development.”

UNDP Resident Representative and UN Coordinator Neal Walker 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.  The dumps were not very well designed to begin with, and have been degrading over time.  By leaving them in their current state, we are playing Russian roulette with millions of human lives. “The governments of Central Asia have come at a high level to affirm their commitment to a results-approach to resolving the problem together.”

Miroslav Jenca, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Central Asia, said although the forum was not a pledging conference, it did yield several important results, including the creation of political and technical consensus among both Central Asian governments and with major donors. “Several international organizations and donors expressed support for the initiative, including UNDP, OSCE, the European Commission, EurAsEC, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Governments of Canada, Finland, Norway, Russia and others. We now have real momentum towards a multilateral approach to dealing with the problem.”

Walker said there were three definitive outcomes to the forum:

  • Strengthening regulatory frameworks and national capacity to address the problem.
  • Community development including both containment of toxic waste and community economic, ecological and social development.
  • 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 Walker.

Contact Information

Adam Rogers, Senior Communications Advisor, UNDP
adam.rogers@undp.org; mobile: +41 79 849 06 79.