Contaminated radioactive coal was used for heating in 14 schools and one kindergarten in the northern Kyrgyz province of Chui, Svetlana Baitikova, a spokeswoman for the country’s Health Ministry, said on Friday.
“In some schools radiation levels were 26 times above normal,” Baitikova said.
Last November Kyrgyzstan imported some 9,000 metric tons of coal from neighboring Kazakhstan. Specialists later discovered that the coal, produced at the Kulansky mine in southern Kazakhstan, contained excessively high levels of radiation.
The Prosecutor General’s office launched a criminal case and charged the head of the northern Kyrgyz company, which shipped the coal, with ecocide. He is currently in a detention facility in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and faces between 12 and 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Criminal cases were also opened against health and sanitary officials who authorized the dangerous shipment in the Chui administrative center of Tokmak.
News of the radioactive coal sparked outrage among the opposition in Kyrgyzstan. One MP asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute Prime Minister Omurbek Bababnov.
Scientists say that although the coal’s radiation level greatly exceeds the norms it is not lethal.