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Monitoring of the Caspian Sea Rivers


Study of the Rate And Character of Radionuclide and Chemical Contamination, and Creation of the System of Radiation and Hydro-Chemical Monitoring in the Basins of the Ural and the Emba

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-WPC/Water Pollution and Control/Environment

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kazakstan, Almaty

Supporting institutes

  • Republican State Enterprise “Kazgidromet”, Kazakstan, Almaty


  • Sandia National Laboratories, USA, NM, Albuquerque\nForschungszentrum Jülich GmbH / Department of Safety and Radiation Protection, Germany, Jülich

Project summary

There is an emerging ecological situation in Kazakhstan at present related with deficiency of qualitative natural water resources. It is caused by high anthropogenic impact on many water objects of the country. The impact rate reaches such values that water ecosystems lose their self-healing. About the half of the volume of water resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan is formed beyond the bounds of its territory (in China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Russia), where water objects are also exposed to high anthropogenic impact. In this connection, the problem on rational use and conservation and preservation of both inland and trans-boundary water resources is of great importance. Objective data on the rate, the sources and mechanisms of contamination of natural water objects will contribute to a great extent to successful settlement of a large number of economic, technical and political matters on this problem. Regions close to the Caspian Sea of Kazakhstan experience the highest deficiency of good water resources. Similar situation arises in Caucasus States and in close to the Caspian Sea regions of Russia. Following from the stated circumstances there have been developed the International Project “Joint International Investigation on Contamination of the Rivers of the Caspian Sea basins, Flowing Through the Territories of Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan” or “The Caspian Rivers” (is the International Project) by the five scientific community of 5 CIS countries Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan with participation of the USA (Sandia National Laboratories) under the initiative of Kazakhstani scientists. This project was presented and discussed at the International Workshop on Radiological Sciences and Applications-2 (IWRSA-2), 16-18 March 2005, Vienna, Austria. Under the International Project the first coordination workshop of the CIS states (Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) was conducted on 25 September 2005 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The participants of the workshop made a decision on necessity of creation of a special group for work coordination on the International project “The Caspian Rivers” in the framework of the regional project from Kazakhstan. As Coordinator of the International project was appointed Dr. Solodukhin V.P., head of a laboratory at INP NNC RK. “The International Project on Radiation and Hydro-Chemical Surveying and Monitoring of the Main Caspian Rivers, Kazakhstan” is one of the important component parts of the International Project “The Caspian Rivers”. The objectives of the project are: (1) study the sources and mechanisms of contamination with radionuclides and toxic elements in the basins of the Caspian rivers Ural and Emba on the territory of Kazakhstan; (2) create a database on radioactive contamination of the rivers; (3) utilization of obtained results in solving the problems on trans-boundary control, monitoring and preservation of the freshwater resources.

Surface water resources of the Caspian Sea on the territory of Kazakhstan are presented, mostly, by the Ural and the Emba together with their tributaries. Total area of these basins on the territory of the republic exceeds 100, 000 km2. The water fund of these rivers comprises about 20 km2. The population in this region exceeds 2 million people according to UNDP data. Water quality of the rivers is extremely unsatisfactory. Most types of contaminants come in to water objects in large quantities with sewage from manufactures of chemical, oil processing, engineering and nonferrous metal industry located in the area of the rivers’ basins. Activity of manufactures resulted in disastrous pollution of littoral zones and underground waters feeding the rivers. In the Ural impurities of cooper revealed up to 2 MPC, zinc – up to 8 MPC, chromium – up to 4 MPC and manganese – up to 10 MPC. It is revealed that the fishes of a sturgeon breed (the main natural resource of the river) came down with a myopathy disease, which shows in muscles dissection and roe degeneration of the females.

Unfavorable ecological situation in the basins of the Ural and the Emba aggravates in consequence of intensive development of oil and gas-condensate fields. Many of such fields (e.g. a gas-condensate field Qarachaganak) are situated in sanitary and fenced-off zones of Ural and Emba rivers. The content of oil products in the rivers reaches values up to 13 MPC, and phenols – up to 5 MPC. In the Ural, down Atyrau city as far as the very sea, the oil products in bottom sediments vary within 10 to 20 mg/kg. Oil production process frequently resulting in high contamination of industrial areas with natural radionuclides (mostly with radium) coming from the earth’s crust together with formation water is the circumstance of the extremely serious ecological problem. In Western Kazakhstan 179 sites of oil water evaporation were revealed, the rate of contamination with natural radionuclides on which comprises 1000 – 3000 μR/h. Some of the sites are spaced near water sources. No contamination impact on natural water composition has been studied to the point.

During the period of 1965 to 1988 on the territory of Western Kazakhstan and in near boundary areas of Russia there were carried 40 underground nuclear explosions. Some of them (e.g., “LIRA” in Kazakhstan) were performed in immediate proximity to water sources. Test sites for explosions were chosen taking into account hydrological peculiarities of a locality indeed. But there is no full guarantee of absence of radionuclides migration with soil waters, accumulated in hollow bags, into the riverbeds for this day. On the border of Ural (Kazakhstan) and Volgograd (Russia) oblasts there is the former military polygon “Kapustin Yar”, on which 10 air nuclear explosions were performed with total power of 1000 kt of trotil equivalent. In 1954, on the territory of Orenburg oblast (Russia, the Ural basin) there was carried out the Totsky troop exercise with use of nuclear weapons, in the course of which a nuclear explosion of 40 kt of trotil equivalent was performed at a height of 350 m above the earth. It is known that air explosions result in contamination of considerable areas with artificial radionuclides, which are distributed in the long run into rivers and lakes under the forcing of natural factors (wind, precipitation). Radiation consequences of all the events for the river waters of the close to the Caspian Sea region on the territory of Kazakhstan have not been studied sufficiently as well. It follows from the stated circumstances and events that the ecological situation of the aquatic medium of the main life supporting rivers Ural and Emba on the territory of Western Kazakhstan connected to a considerable degree with the man-caused contamination, main components of that are radioactive elements, heavy metals and oil products. Available at present information on contamination of the rivers has not been systematized, and it is contradictory now and then. Supervisory services are relaxed. In this connection, it is quite obvious urgent need for qualified study of contamination rate and character of the of the rivers’ basins on the territory of Kazakhstan, creation of a unique monitoring system of quality of their aquatic medium.

To start planned research works, sites and objects will be selected for investigation based on retrospective review and critical analysis of all types of activities and natural phenomena affecting the ecological and radioecological situation in the region. Regular sampling of river water, bottom sediments, littoral soil and vegetation will be done two times a year (in spring and fall) between March and November covering high water level period in rivers caused by snow melting and normal water level for the most part due to ground water inflow. During the scene of sampling the radiochemical measurements and measurements determining main qualitative and quantitative water parameters will be carried out, and coordination of points for measurement and sampling will be determined as well. During the sampling of water and bottom sediments hydrological measurements will be carried out with usage of special equipment. In water samples there is provided for contents determination of main ions, biogenic matters and oil products. When performing laboratory researches, along with methods of radionuclide analysis (-, -spectrometry with preliminary radiochemical separation, instrumental -spectrometry), methods of chemical, neutron activation analysis (NAA), X-ray-fluorescent analysis and mass-spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma (ICP-MS) will be used.

Highly qualified staff such as physicists, chemists, ecologists, engineers and technicians having much experience in the field of nuclear physics methods of analysis, radiochemistry, instrument making, nuclear engineering as well as experts in data processing and modeling shall be involved in the implementation of the scope of work under the project.

The project provides for the decision of the following tasks:

  1. Large-scale investigation of the rate and character of contamination with radionuclides and toxic elements of the Caspian Sea rivers Emba and Ural at the territory of Kazakhstan.
  2. General characteristics for contamination of the basins of the Caspian Sea rivers Ural and Emba on the territory of Kazakhstan and creation of a system of radiation and hydro-chemical monitoring based on it.
  3. Development of a database containing information on water quality and quantity as well as on the rate and character of contamination of most radiationally and ecologically hazardous objects in the basins of the Caspian Sea rivers Emba and Ural on the territory of Kazakhstan.
  4. Coordination of investigations under the International Project “The Caspian Rivers”.The results of the investigations under the project "Radiation study and monitoring of the Caspian Sea rivers, Kazakhstan" and the International project “The Caspian Rivers” (as consequence of work coordination under the all regional projects) will contribute in solving the problems on trans-boundary control and preservation of the water resources as well as improvement of radiation and ecological situation in the basins of the Caspian Sea on the whole. Obtained objective information and the debugged unique monitoring system of radiation and ecological situation in the zones of the main Caspian rivers’ basins will contribute in normalization and consolidation of political relations between the countries close to the Caspian region as well.

The Project meets ISTC goals and objectives by followings:
  • The Project has its objective to solve the problems on trans-boundary control and water resource preservation as well as improvement of the ecological situation in the zones of the Caspian region, i.e. the project is of a social and plain orientation.
  • Main participants of the Project are “weapons” specialists previously involved in the weapon development and its production under the USSR program of a nuclear defense complex.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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