More than 20,000 tons of deteriorating rocket fuel known as "mélange" - stored in ageing containers across the former USSR - threatens both the security and the environment in much of the OSCE region. After the successful clean-up of Georgia's stockpiles in 2002, attention has now moved from the Caucasus to Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
In the former Soviet Union, mélange was used to oxidize guided missile fuel. The two components were stored separately in the field and pumped into individual chambers inside a rocket to prepare it for use. To ignite the fuel, the components were combined into a single combustion chamber.
After the USSR's collapse, large stocks of mélange were left on the territories of the former republics. Over the years, moisture has appeared and caused storage tanks, made of either steel or aluminum, to shrink and corrode.
If they leak, these highly toxic chemicals could contaminate the environment for decades," says Raul Daussa, Associate Programme Officer and the OSCE contact point for environmental security issues.
Mélange, however, threatens not only the environment. The possibility of terrorists or other criminal groups gaining access to stockpiles or trying to destroy the storage tanks presents a serious security risk to OSCE participating States.
"If a 100 cubic metre tank of mélange were to burst," says Anton Martynyuk, OSCE Confidence- and Security-Building Measures Officer, "a deadly cloud with a radius of two kilometres would form, which could be carried up to 80 kilometres away."
Lacking the necessary technical, material and financial resources, several states are unable to deal with the problem on their own and have requested help from the OSCE. Disposal projects at various stages are now under way in Armenia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. In co-ordination with a NATO mélange disposal project, the OSCE is also helping Azerbaijan rehabilitate contaminated soil at its two storage sites.
"Each project allows the OSCE to build on its experience and improve its effectiveness in dealing with the mélange problem, which is especially helpful if more states request assistance in the future," says Martynyuk, who is the OSCE contact point for ammunition disposal.
The first phase of an OSCE mélange project involves a preliminary assessment, a scoping study and general preparations led by the OSCE Secretariat in co-operation with the field operations. The second phase consists of planning, budgeting and contracting. The third phase, which is steered by the field operations with assistance from the Secretariat, covers the actual mélange disposal or recycling.
In July 2005, the OSCE and NATO held a workshop to develop best practices for the secure, economical and environmentally sound disposal of mélange. "Under the framework of the Environment and Security Initiative, which is a partnership of the OSCE, UNEP, UNDP and NATO, we try to avoid duplicating efforts and to attract donor interest for projects that are aimed at reducing environmental risks," says Daussa.
In 2002, an OSCE pilot project in Georgia recycled 450 tons of the toxic waste into liquid fertilizer for farmers.
In Armenia, the OSCE Office in Yerevan made significant headway in 2005. The OSCE is now set to begin recycling the country's 872 tons of mélange based on the Georgian model, having signed an agreement with the Defence Ministry in September. A conversion plant has been constructed and recycling will begin in May this year.
"Converting it into a mineral-rich fertilizer eliminates the security and environmental threat, benefiting the region's agriculture by reducing the soil's acidity," says Jeannette Klotzer, Economic and Environmental Officer of the OSCE Office in Yerevan.
The project in Armenia has been made possible through funding by the United States, Germany, Finland and Canada.
In Azerbaijan, an OSCE experts' visit in October 2005 found a suitable way to upgrade two storage sites. They also determined the technical and financial resources required to rehabilitate soil contaminated by rocket fuel spills. NATO will begin disposing of the country's 1,000 tons of mélange in July 2006.
Mélange experts also visited Kazakhstan in 2005. They estimated that roughly one million euros will be needed to dispose of its 1,500 tons over the next two years.
Ukraine had the largest amount of mélange left on its territory - nearly 17,000 tons. "Disposing of this daunting amount will be the biggest project ever implemented by the OSCE in Ukraine," says Ambassador James Schumaker, the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine.
In October 2005, Ambassador Schumaker handed over the final assessment of Ukraine's mélange facilities to Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko. Having begun phase two, the OSCE is now focusing on budgeting, fundraising and contracting.
The OSCE Secretariat and the Project Co-ordinator's Office now face the challenge of raising the 10 million euros needed to implement the project, which experts estimate may take up to four years to complete.