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Radionuclide Pollution of Biosphere Reserve of Issik-Kul


Risk assessment of pollution with radionuclides "Biosphere Reserve of Issik-Kul" (natural-caused uranium province of Kadji-Say).

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-EHS/Environmental Health and Safety/Environment
  • AGR-DIS/Disease Surveillance/Agriculture
  • AGR-PPR/Plant Protection/Agriculture
  • BIO-DIV/Biodiversity/Biotechnology
  • BIO-RAD/Radiobiology/Biotechnology
  • BIO-REM/Bioremediation/Biotechnology
  • BIO-SFS/Biosafety and BioSecurity/Biotechnology
  • CHE-CAA/Control and Accounting/Chemistry
  • CHE-SAS/Safety and Security/Chemistry
  • ENV-WDS/Waste Disposal/Environment
  • MED-DIS/Disease Surveillance/Medicine
  • MED-RAD/Radiomedicine/Medicine

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Institute of Biology and Pedology, Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek

Supporting institutes

  • Biosphere territory of “Isik-Kol”, Kyrgyzstan, Balykchy


  • University of Minnesota / Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, USA, MN, St Paul\nUS Geological Survey, USA, VA, Reston

Project summary

A large inventory (~750 million cubic meters) of uranium mill tailings (UMT) remains in the Kyrgyz Republic (KR), representing a major environmental contamination legacy of the former Soviet Union (Torgoev and Aleshin, 2009). The focus of this proposed study will be the Kadji-Say UMT, adjacent to Lake Issik-Kul, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site .

This site has received only minimal remedial action, and only a limited amount of data is available on radioactive contamination at the site. A full radiological and radioecological assessment is needed in order to protect people in the surrounding communities, assess critical pathways of exposure in the ecosystem, and provide data needed to answer questions related to tourism development. A revitalized tourist industry in the region has the potential for major economic benefits and in-flow of foreign capital to the Kyrgyz Republic.

These uranium provinces and the response of various organisms’ vital functions (organisms’ reactions for increased radionuclide content, plant-soil cover, biopersity, and human health impacts) have not been studied yet. A real biogeochemical situation is not clear too. Man-caused radiobiogeochemical provinces evolution prognoses are absent. According to limited data of medical examiners and geologists, the man-caused uranium provinces have significantly changed in the republic for the last 60-year period.

Thus radioecological, geochemical and biogeochemical problems of rare and rare-earth elements are of paramount importance. The most urgent is revealing of ecology-bio-geochemical peculiarities of territories enriched by uranium and assessment of organisms’ reactions in ecosystems with high contents of radionuclides and metals.

Given the lack of assessment and the risk of contamination of the biosphere reserve of the Issyk-Kul, it is important to know the distribution of uranium, thorium and other hazardous chemical elements. Thus was formulated by former weapons scientists a project with the objective : assessment of the risk of contamination radionuclide «Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul» (natural-caused uranium province of Kadji-Say). It is known that the "Issik-Kul biosphere territory" is included on a list of world heritage sites by UNESCO as a protected area (2001). But, nevertheless, this territory and its biota are at risk from contaminats associated with UMT in the watershed of the biosphere reserve.

The project aims at solution of scientific and practical problems by weapon scientists engaged in fundamental researches directed to peace purposes (radioecological risk assessment and the risk of contamination of the biosphere reserve in the vicinity of uranium geochemical anomalies and the whole biosphere reserve).

The project goal – To produce a radiological risk assessment for the "Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul", considering both the naturally occurring earth materials, and the technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material (TENORM) of the uranium province of Kadji-Say.

Problems addressed (Tasks):

  1. to survey radioactivity concentrations in soil, water, native plants, crops and foodstuffs in the TENORM uranium province Kadji-Sai and Issyk-Kul biosphere territory, and in surrounding, undisturbed territory;
  2. to survey biological persity (flora and fauna) in the topsoil (and assess the extent of soil erosion, and possible migration of radionuclides to the lake) of the TENORM and surrounding territories;
  3. to study morphological, physiological, and cytogenetic features of organisms in the TENORM and surrounding territories;
  4. to investigate methods of re-vegetating bare tailings with native flora ;
  5. to carry out a medical survey of the residents of the village of Kadji-Sai and area of Issyk_Kul;
  6. to carry out a risk assessment of contamination Biosphere Reserve of Issyk-Kul (Kadji-Sai village, Issyk-Kul lake and surrounding area), including modelling of contaminant transport under different remediation scenarios;
  7. to produce radiological and radio-biogeochemical zoning maps of the state of the natural and TENORM-effected zones of the uranium province of Kadji-Sai and Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul, and make recommendations to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defense of Kyrgyzstan.

The project contributes to research for peace purposes resulting in solution of urgent problems of radioecology and radio-biogeochemistry for fundamental and applied sciences. The study will be conducted on the territory "Issyk-Kul biosphere territory" (uranium of natural-technogenic provinces Kadji-Sai tailing, the lake and surrounding areas).

The foreign collaborators will coordinate the project for the development improvement, communication with foreign scientists, determination of sources for procurement of needed supplies and equipment, recommendations for research data information dissemination. They will also participate in conferences and workshops as well as in writing the reports.

The project relates to the fundamental and applied research. The research will develop guidelines for environmental assessment and radioecology of natural and technogenic biogeochemical provinces in the mountainous uranium-rich regions, will help in the future to make proposals on the project for implementation in other Central Asian countries, and will help to develop measures to reduce the risk of soil and water contaminattion from uranium-series radionuclides and from other forms of radioactivity.

The project results can be used by medical, agricultural and other institutions for the correction of an unfavorable situations, and for the regional monitoring and restoration of natural land cover on uranium tailings in mountain conditions.

After completing the research the following results will be obtained as research products:

  • database of background radiation, the total radioactivity (isotopic composition), the level of uranium and other radionuclides in the environment (soil, water, plants, crops) of uranium of natural-technogenic provinces Kadji-Sai and Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul;
  • assessment of the current state of the soil cover (soil erosion, and possible migration of radionuclides from entering the lake) and set the parameters of biological persity (flora and fauna) of taxonomy in the tailings of the biosphere, all enclosed areas and biosphere reserves;
  • research report on the biological response (morphological, physiological, and cytogenetic features) of organisms in natural and man-made landscapes of uranium Kadji-Sai, to assess the risk of contamination by uranium and other radionuclide and their distribution in the biosphere reserve;
  • report rating various methods of tailings re-vegetation and the creation of cultivated flora of native plant species;
  • report of medical survey conducted on inhabitants of the village of uranium of Kadji-Sai and area of Issyk-Kul;
  • risk assessment of contamination Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul (lake and surrounding area) and the forecast and simulation;
  • conducted radiological and radio-biogeochemical zoning and produced a map of the uranium province of Kadji-Sai and Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul;
  • prepared recommendations for the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defense of KR.

By the end of the project implementation, the inhabitants of these subregions biosphere territory of Issik-Kul will obtain a real picture concerning uranium tailings of Kadji-Sai and soil vegetable cover state, biopersity of the biosphere territory, and appropriate recommendations for their improvement. Based on these data, plans can be made for phyto-rehabilitation of UMT (recovery of vegetation and soil cover). Recommendations will be made for the protection of various animal and plant species in these areas (endemic and rare, endangered species of living organisms), by planting plants on tailings (phyto-indicators, etc.) and questions of activities conducted on the use of different methods for the safe storage of radioactive waste, which further will provide certain technical and economic effect for the improvement of environmental conditions on the whole biosphere reserve.

Project results can be used by Ministry of Ecology and Emergency Situations, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Defense and by research entities in the Kyrgyz Republic as well as corresponding bodies of other states. So, the project has many advantages which cannot be quantitatively estimated.


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