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Uranium in Kyrgyzstan

(Updated October 2014)

  • Kyrgyzstan has some uranium deposits and has supplied Russia in the past.
  • It hosts a uranium mill which treats Kazakh uranium ore on toll basis.

Having been annexed by Russia in 1876, Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1936 and achieved independence in 1991. Electricity production in 2011 was about 15 TWh, 80% hydro, from 3.6 GWe installed capacity.

The country has a history of uranium mining, but reports no uranium resources today (its last report in the IAEA ‘Red Book’ was 2002).

The Mailuu-Suu district, in the Jalal-Abad Province in southern Kyrgyzstan was a significant uranium mining area in the Soviet era to 1989 where more than 10,000 tonnes of uranium was produced between 1946 and 1967. The Kara Balta Mining Combine was set up in the 1950s to mine and treat this ore. After Kyrgyz uranium mining ceased, in 1997 it became a joint stock company, Kara Baltinski Ore Mining Combine, and in 2007 the 72% state equity was purchased by the Renova Group – see below.

Exploration

Monaro Mining NL based in Australia had eight exploration licences in the Kyrgyz Republic which are prospective for uranium. These projects include Aramsu, Utor, Naryn, Sumsar, Sogul, Djurasay, Hodjaakan, and Gavasai (the last few including base and precious metals). 

Monaro in January 2008 signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese resources group Sinosteel for it to take over exploration of its Kyrgyz projects, under which it could eventually own up to 60% of two new uranium mines in the country. At the end of 2009 Monaro reported that it had sold a 75% interest in its Kyrgyz Project to Gate Bridge Co Ltd based in Hong Kong and owned by a consortium of HK and Chinese investors. Monaro will retain a 25% free-carried interest until such time as Gate Bridge generates a pre-feasibility study on any of the licence areas.

Raisama Ltd based in Australia has a 75% interest in the Kashkasu project, west of the historic uranium mines, with uranium mineralisation spread over 2.6 km strike length. China's Hebai Mining has a 10.94% interest in Raisama.

Azarga Uranium (formerly Powertech) based in Canada through its 80% subsidiary UrAsia has a uranium and rare earth lease at Kyzyl Ompul, 125 km east of Bishkek, containing 2900 tU inferred resources (NI 43-101).

A number of other companies including ARMZ's Uranium One are also actively exploring for uranium. Nimrodel has leases in the Mailuu-Suu area.

Several of the licences have CIS (Commonwealth Independent States) defined resources. However, these do not conform to JORC or NI 43-101 standards and a significant amount of further work is required before JORC-compliant resource statements can be reported.

Uranium mill

The Kara Balta mining plant (KBMP), a hydrometallurgical plant, was built in 1951 on the Chu River near Bishkek to treat uranium ore from two Kyrgyz deposits (Kadji-Sai and Kavak) to 1989 and four Kazakh deposits (including Stepnoye and Tsentral) to 2005, and at its peak contributed 20% of USSR’s uranium production. It also treated molybdenum ores and gold ores, and produced other metals and barite.

The JSC Kara Baltinski Ore Mining Combine now processes uranium material from Kazakhstan's Zarechnoye joint venture at the refurbished Kara Balta mill. The Kyrgyz government holds a 0.67% share in that JV. It accepted a tender from UralPlatina Holdings, a subsidiary of Russian resources investment group, Renova, for its 72% stake in the Kara Baltinski company in March 2007. The EUR 1.8 million price was less than half the earlier asking price. The company struck an agreement in October 2008 with the Kazakh-based Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) to provide $150 million to develop the mill and properly emplace 50 years of tailings accumulation at Kara Balta. At the time the tailings were thought to contain up to 11,000 tU.

Kara Balta then contracted with Russian-Kazakh Zarechnoye JV and Kazatomprom in Kazakhstan for toll milling. The mill resumed uranium production in August 2007 and has increased annual production from about 800 tonnes of uranium to 2574 tU in 2009, exceeding for the first time historic output levels.  This production is all counted as kazakh. Further plans involve tailings re-treatment and disposal. 

Legacy tailings

There are several tailings storage facilities in Kyrgyz Republic. Some of them, especially around Mailuu-Suu which was threatened by a landslide in 2003, are in poor conditions as no rehabilitation was done to either tailings storage facilities or uranium mining sites after Soviet mining ceased. Mailuu-Suu (or Mayli-Suu) in 2001 had 23 uranium tailings dams containing 1.9 million cubic metres of material arising from its operation to 1968. Tuyuk-Suu in the Minkush valley in the centre of the country contained 430,000 cubic metres of uranium tailings, and the clay cover had degraded. In 1996 the Ministry of Environment led a $0.5 million project to assess and monitor uranium legacy issues in the southern part of Jalal-Abad oblast.

The Industrial Association Southern Combine for Polymetals (IA Yuzhpolimetall) was established on the basis of the Kyrgyz Mining Combine founded in the 60s. The Combine mined and processed uranium ores from the Southern Kazakhstan region to 1991. Throughout the period of the Combine's activities, 55 million cubic metres of below-ore-grade material and barren rocks in 18 dumps covering 214 ha and with 600 TBq activity were accumulated. These were all some 80 km from populated areas. Four tailings dams containing a total of 35 million cubic metres of fine tailings were formed on its sites, covering 258 ha and with 3200 TBq of activity. Three of the tailings dams, up to 11 km from Minkush, were finished between 1960 and 1969, after which half a metre of loam was compacted on the surface.

High-level discussions with Russia in 2004 in connection with setting up the Zarechnoye JV in Kazakhstan addressed the issue of rehabilitation of Kyrgyz tailings storages and uranium mining areas, particularly tailings near Kadgy Sai on the shore of Lake Issyk Kul in the east, Min Kush in the Tien Shan mountains, and Mailuu-Suu. The projected cost was $8.8 million. VNIIPromtekhnologii and ARMZ had looked at investments in project related to rehabilitation of territories affected by uranium mining enterprises, including Kyrgyzstan. 

Non-proliferation

Kyrgyzstan is a party to the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and signed an Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA in 2007. It has also ratified the Central Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone treaty, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Main References:
Alekhina, V.M. et al 2008, Quantitative assessment of the man-induced uranium in the tail disposal of the Kara Balta mining plant.
The Radiation Legacy of the Soviet Nuclear Complex: an analytical overview, Egorov, N.N., Iovikov, V.M., Popov V.K., Parker F.L., Technology & Engineering (2014).