Keeping Kyrgyzstan’s Uranium In The Ground – by Bruce Pannier (Radio Free Europe – May 6, 2019)

“There will be no mining of uranium in Kyrgyzstan.” — Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov on May 4, 2019

When the people of Kyrgyzstan’s Tong district confirmed there was a uranium-mining operation in their area, they protested. Then their protest spread to Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, and parliament quickly passed a motion to ban uranium mining in the country.

Mining uranium in Kyrgyzstan is a sensitive issue. The country is still trying to clean up several dozen contaminated areas where uranium was mined when Kyrgyzstan was a Soviet republic.

The publicity about the work at the Kyzyl-Ompol site in Tong district brought the issue of uranium mining back to the attention of the Kyrgyz public. But it has also become clear that, legally speaking, it is not so easy to close down a mining operation in Kyrgyzstan, and there is more than just one mining site.

Tong district is located in Kyrgyzstan’s northeastern Issyk-Kul Province, the location of Kyrgyzstan’s — and some would say Central Asia’s — prime tourist location: the huge lake from which the province derives its name.

A company called UrAsia in Kyrgyzstan has the license to work the Kyzyl-Ompol field in Tong. The broader Tash-Bulak field where Kyzyl-Ompol is located stretches into the neighboring Kochkor district of Naryn Province. Canadian company Azarga Uranium (previously known as Powertech) holds a 70 percent stake in UrAsia in Kyrgyzstan. RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, reported that Russian entrepreneurs own 60 percent of UrAsia in Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz partners own the other 40 percent.

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