Kyrgyzstan's Uranium Waste Dams Pose Risk of Nuclear Disaster in Central Asia

Unstable uranium dams in Kyrgyzstan threaten to unleash nuclear disaster, displacing millions in Central Asia. Urgent action needed to relocate hazardous waste and prevent catastrophic contamination of vital water and agricultural resources.

Quadri Adejumo
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Kyrgyzstan's Uranium Waste Dams Pose Risk of Nuclear Disaster in Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan's Uranium Waste Dams Pose Risk of Nuclear Disaster in Central Asia

In Kyrgyzstan, the uranium mine tailings dams near the town of Mailuu-Suu are at risk of catastrophic failure, potentially leading to a nuclear disaster that could displace millions of people in the densely populated Fergana valley region of Central Asia. The dams, which hold 185 million gallons (700,000 cubic meters) of liquid uranium mine waste, have become increasingly unstable following a landslide in 2017.

Experts caution that a further landslide or earthquake could send the hazardous contents of the dams into the Mailuu-Suu river system, which is used to irrigate farmlands in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. If the liquid waste flows into the river, it would contaminate agricultural produce in the Fergana valley, home to 16 million people and the most densely populated area in Central Asia.

The area near Mailuu-Suu was one of the world's biggest uranium ore dumps, developed by the Soviet Union between the 1940s and 1960s. The current waste storage site is considered unsafe for containment, prompting urgent calls for relocation of the waste.

The Kyrgyz government and a German engineering firm estimate that $23-26 million (22-25 million euros) would be needed to move the waste from the two unsafe locations to a more secure site farther from the river. A relocation project is currently underway to address this pressing environmental and humanitarian issue.

Why this matters: The potential failure of the Mailuu-Suu uranium waste dams threatens to unleash a nuclear disaster on a scale similar to Chernobyl, displacing millions in Central Asia. Immediate action is needed to prevent the contamination of vital water sources and agricultural lands in the region.

Kyrgyz officials stress the critical importance of relocating the uranium waste to a safer location away from the river. "The current site is not safe for containment," stated a government representative. "We are working diligently with international partners to move the waste and prevent a catastrophic event that could impact millions of lives across multiple countries in Central Asia."

Key Takeaways

  • Uranium mine tailings dams in Kyrgyzstan risk catastrophic failure, threatening millions.
  • Hazardous waste could contaminate the Fergana valley, home to 16 million people.
  • Dams hold 185 million gallons of liquid uranium waste, unstable after a 2017 landslide.
  • Relocation of waste to a secure site would cost $23-26 million, project underway.
  • Failure could cause a nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl, urgent action needed.