Thousands Protest Russian-Armenian Uranium Mining Plans in Southern Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–More than two thousand people rallied in southeastern Armenia on Thursday to voice their strong opposition to plans by the Armenian and Russian governments to jointly develop uranium reserves believed to be located in the mountainous area.

The two governments set up in early 2008a joint venture tasked with conducting exploratory work in the Syunik province bordering Iran and Azerbaijan. It was already explored by Soviet geologists in the 1950-1907s and estimated to contain 30,000 metric tons of uranium ore.

Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia’s Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom), expressed confidence at the time that Armenian and Russian specialists will discover commercially viable amounts of the radioactive material. Kirienko said Armenia could become one of the few countries of the world with a full uranium production cycle from extraction of the metal to its transformation into nuclear fuel.

Such a prospect has prompted serious concern from Armenian environment protection activists and non-governmental organizations sympathetic to them. They say uranium mining would be accompanied by dangerous emissions of radioactive waste that would wreak havoc on the region.

Their concerns seem to be shared by a growing number of local residents. Scores of them attended a rally organized by local and Yerevan-based NGOs in the provincial capital Kapan.

Speakers at the rally demanded that the Armenian government scrap the project. They claimed to have collected over 11,000 signatures against its implementation.

Significantly, also addressing the rally was Vache Grigorian, a deputy governor of Syunik. He said the regional administration is also worried about the project and ready to “stand by the people.”

Government officials in Yerevan say it is too early to speculate whether mining operations there will go ahead. They say the Russian-Armenian venture is still ascertaining the scale of uranium deposits concentrated around Lernadzor, a village near Kapan.  
Geologists working in the area confirmed this as they spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service earlier on Thursday. A drilling machine used by them caught fire and was destroyed last month in still unclear circumstances. They said they have already received new equipment.

A U.S. mining company, Global Gold, began looking for uranium in another Armenian province, Gegharkunik, in 2006. It has not reported major deposit discoveries.

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