Kyrgyzstan bans uranium mining after protests

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted on Thursday to ban uranium exploration and mining in the Central Asian nation despite previously issuing licenses to foreign companies such as Canada’s Azarga Uranium.

The move, which may expose the Bishkek government to compensation claims from foreign investors, followed a series of public protests against plans to develop the Kyzyl Ompul project in which Azarga has a stake.

“Parliament has taken a historic decision... Uranium mining will be prohibited,” speaker Dastan Jumabekov told the legislature after Thursday’s vote by which it ordered the government to draft the necessary bills to enforce the ban.

The only exception will be made for the reprocessing of waste in Soviet-era tailings.

Kyrgyzstan produces no significant volumes of uranium, which is used to generate electricity in nuclear power stations, but has an idle uranium mill. A handful of companies from the United States, Australia, China and other countries are exploring local deposits.

UrAsia, the company developing Kyzyl Ompul and in which Azarga owns a 70 percent stake, is being taken over by the Central Asian Uranium Company for $5.85 million in cash payments and a commitment to fund $1.5 million of exploration and development expenditures.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kirsten Donovan