Tajikistan – Mitigating Exposure to Radionuclides
Local Governmental Authorities
Mining Metallurgical Institute of Tajikistan
Youth Group on Protection of the Environment
The main objectives of the project are:
- Health risk reduction by providing access to ecologically clean agricultural products;
- Assist in creating safe living environment for the local population by forestation and water supply;
- Information campaign on radiation safety;
- Prevention of access to the radioactive waste pile;
Uranium deposits were identified in the Fergana Valley of Central Asia at the end of the nineteenth century, not long after the discovery of radium by the Curies. Serious geologically exploration of the mountain systems flanking the Fergana Valley started in 1922 and by the 1940’s four major deposits had been identified. During the later part of the Second World War, exploitation of these major deposits was being undertaken and many smaller deposits were identified. The large ore bodies at Taboshar in Tajikistan and Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan were the first to be developed at large scale under the Soviet Atomic Project.
Over the period 1942-1998 there were more than 10 different mining and processing plants in the Fergana Valley, in areas of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which mined and processed radioactive ores. To serve the short term interests of the military-industrial complex of the USSR radioactive waste storages were set up on surface drainage areas in the vicinity of riverbeds, ground-water tables and flood plains in and around the populous areas of the Fergana Valley, which itself drains into the major Syr Darya river system.
After the collapse of the USSR and subsequent chaos and confusion over mining and reprocessing of uranic ores, large quantities of radioactive material remain in waste and tailings dumps as a heritage from the long period of uncontrolled uranium exploitation.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that most of the radioactive waste stores are situated in unsuitable locations including areas of high seismicity (with earthquakes up to Richter scale 8 – 9); sites subject to mudflows and floods; areas prone to erosion and landslides; and areas of important groundwater resources. For these reasons, the tailings are a threat to human activity not only directly in the areas of their location, but at a considerable distance away, especially in relation to the river flows in the populous areas of the valley. In addition to past releases of material, there is a real danger of further contamination of the atmosphere, groundwater and river water basin of the Fergana Valley.
The Fergana Valley is an extraordinary region of Central Asia, in terms of political, social, economic and ecological aspects. The total area is more than 100 km2 of flat, fertile lands, divided among three states – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is one of the most populated regions of Central Asia with more than 10 million people living in the valley and population growth is a key factor of tension. Thus, the problem of uranium tailings and toxic industrial waste in the Fergana Valley has the potential to cause environmental disasters across borders. To deal with the consequences of past lack of management and the risks of future disasters will need decades of focused effort and funding. Currently, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as the poorest countries in the region, do not have adequate financial and technical capacity to ensure proper maintenance and reconstruction of radioactive waste storage and rehabilitation of contaminated sites and to provide adequate health monitoring for surrounding communities.
The environmental risk increases every year, creating a real danger of radioactive pollution of the large territory around the tailings. Use of the radioactive materials in the agricultural production, which is grown up in vicinities of the tailings, could lead to significant radiation exposure of the population of Goziyon Jamoat.
As a result of the project 5 radioactive hotspots in residential areas were removed. The results of the sociological surveys conducted in 2014 were used to design and implement an education and awareness program. 400 people who live close to the tailings were educated about radiation safety and provided printed materials. This has significantly decreased the most immediate risks of radioactive contamination to people. The awareness activities inspired local residents to demand actions from the regional government to address the issue of contamination from tailings. The governor responded by ordering the covering up of tailings with a layer of clean soil. By the end of 2015 more than 30% of the tailings were covered. All these actions and involvement of the government should be considered a great success of the project.
The remaining risks in the area include highly contaminated vast area of tailings with open access of people and grazing animals. Therefore the tailings should be properly fenced. The hypothesis of wide spread contamination of the nearby residential areas with radioactive dust from the tailings was not supported by the soil sampling results. However this does not mean that the soil in the immediate vicinity of the tailings (less than 1 km) is not contaminated from dust arising from the tailings. This means that people and animals that walk by the tailings could be exposed to contaminated soil and dust. Covering the tailings with a layer of soil would eliminate this risk factor. Furthermore planting trees around the tailings would decrease the production of dust.
The conducted education activity was successful. But the next generation of local people, growing children would need to be educated as well. So a longterm solution is necessary, e.g. special classes in local schools and kindergartens.
To sum up the list of recommendations for future activities at the Digmai site:
• planting the trees around the Digmai tailings;
• constructing the fence of 4000m long in the north – west part of the tailing;
• covering the tailings with a layer of soil
• introducing regular classes on radiation safety in local school and kindergartens
• conduct a more detailed assessment to include studies of radon, soils in the immediate vicinity of the tailings, health impacts.