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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 17:09 GMT
Threat from Kyrgyz waste dumps
Lake Issyk-Gul, Kyrgyzstan
Tourist sites under threat?

A potential environmental threat hanging over Central Asia has been highlighted by an international campaign focusing on uranium waste dumps inherited from the region's Soviet past.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has circulated brochures around Mayli-Say in Kyrgyzstan warning about the risk from dumps left since the days when the town was home to a mine extracting uranium for the Soviet nuclear weapons programme.

The danger stems from the possibility of erosion of nearly two million cubic metres of radioactive substances buried in 23 sites around the town, Kyrgyz media reports.

The OSCE is worried that the uranium waste dumped there might fall into the nearby Syr Darya, one of Central Asia's major rivers, polluting an area along its course through neighbouring Uzbekistan and into the Aral Sea, some 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) away.

The danger is not just from natural causes, the brochure warns.

"Residents very often trigger the erosion of waste dumps by bringing their cattle to graze and taking mud and sand to build and repair their houses," it points out.

Tourism fears

Mayli-Say, near the Uzbek border, is far from being Kyrgyzstan's only danger spot.

While the OSCE was circulating its brochures, the country's president was calling for action to tackle another uranium waste dump at the opposite end of the country.

Visiting the area around the northern Lake Issyk-Kul - one of Central Asia's major tourist attractions - Askar Akayev highlighted the need to speed up the reclamation of the Kadzhi-Say dump on the lake's southern shore.

Map of Kyrgyzstan
Neighbours are worried too

Four years ago, Kyrgyz newspapers reported a warning from the Emergencies and Civil Defence Ministry that if no action was taken heavy rains could wash radioactive particles into the Issyk-Kul basin, but the problem remains unsolved.

A project to reduce the environmental threat near the lake has reportedly attracted foreign funding.

Russia is said to have given $160,000, and a further $400,000 has been made available by the USA.

And now Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev has presented a $8.8m project to reclaim areas around former uranium mines.

According to Kyrgyzstan's State Agency for Geology and Mineral Resources, there are 130 tailings and mining dumps containing 70m tonnes of radioactive waste scattered across the republic.

The structures built to contain the waste are in great need of renovation and under constant threat from mudflows, avalanches and flood waters, as well as people combing them for saleable waste and scrap metal.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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