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Kyrgyzstan: Radioactive Legacy Vexes Bishkek

Friday, May 29,  KYRGYZSTAN: RADIOACTIVE LEGACY VEXES BISHKEK David Trilling 5/27/09 – “…………………..In March 2008, officials from Kyrgyzstan’s Emergencies Ministry began moving radioactive uranium waste from Soviet-era dumps — located in poorly fortified ravines and along riverbeds downstream — into the hills just above his home. “It gives us headaches; our eyes itch,” Toko says as he gestures across the road. Now he grows his fruits and vegetables in water potentially contaminated by the radioactive materials.

A few kilometers downstream from Toko’s house there are even more lethal radioactive deposits — known as tailings. They line the river and surround the former industrial town of Mailuu Suu, now home to acres of derelict factory buildings. Not too long ago, the area was a desirable place to live. ………………………….as much as 10,000 tons of yellowcake (U3O8), a refined form of uranium that can be used either to produce nuclear energy or atomic weapons, was produced in Mailuu Suu for Soviet weapons programs. The first Soviet atomic weapon was made from uranium mined at Mailuu Suu, say officials at Kyrgyzstan’s National Academy of Science. Communist central planners tended to care about results, not the potential consequences of their decisions. Thus little thought was given to the disposal of radioactive waste. Approximately 2 million cubic meters of uranium tailings were buried in the area, according to Kyrgyz government statistics. It is the largest such site in the country. In addition to the 23 tailings dumps, workers sprinkled almost a million cubic meters of uranium waste rock atop 13 dumps nearby, on land still exposed to the rain and annual mudslides.

Many of the tailing sites and waste rock dumps are now poorly marked. Sheep graze on them. Water drains through the radioactive material and downstream into Uzbekistan and the Syr Darya, which winds its way through Central Asia’s most densely populated areas.

Mailuu Suu residents complain of goiter, anemia, cancer and early death. Radiation in some areas is 30 times normal levels. Former Mailuu Suu mayor Bumairam Mamaseitova, currently an MP in Bishkek with the opposition Communist Party, says rates of cancer in Mailuu Suu are the highest in Kyrgyzstan. “All of the diseases are related to those uranium tailings in the area.” For her, it is a personal issue. “This issue of uranium tailings worries me a lot because my father died when he was only 52 years old. He used to work in the uranium mines. I was born and have lived in Mailuu Suu. Most of my relatives died in their 50s.”

Dumps there are thought to be the most dangerous in Kyrgyzstan, due to the valley’s higher-than-avera

EurasiaNet Civil Society – Kyrgyzstan: Radioactive Legacy Vexes Bishkek

May 29, 2009 - Posted by | Kyrgyzstan, wastes | , , , ,

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