Ukraine to dispose of its uranium

First success for Obama as Nuclear Security Summit gets under way.

April 12, 2010 23:17
2 minute read.
Chile has rid itself of nuclear material

Chile rid of nuclear 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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WASHINGTON — Ukraine has agreed to get rid of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, enough for several nuclear weapons, in an agreement announced by the White House as President Barack Obama opened a nuclear security summit in Washington Monday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Ukraine stockpile will be disposed of by 2012 under the agreement. Some of the material may be shipped to the United States for storage as part of an effort to keep it out of the hands of terrorists. Russia also will have a role in disposing of the material.

"This is something the United States has tried to make happen for more than 10 years," Gibbs said at a briefing.

Heading off the potential for nuclear terrorism is the top priority in Obama's nuclear strategy, and the two-day Washington summit involving 46 nations and the U.S. is focused on steps toward the president's goal of securing nuclear stockpiles worldwide within four years.

Obama and Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych met earlier Monday as the summit was getting under way. Gibbs said Ukraine will convert its civil nuclear research facilities to operate with low-enriched uranium fuel.

John Brennan, Obama's homeland security adviser, said at the briefing that al-Qaida is determined to gain the material to fabricate a nuclear device and such a weapon is the "most prized goal of terrorist groups."

"We cannot wait any longer before we lock down those stockpiles," Brennan said. The consequences for failure would be "devastating."

Gibbs said the US is "absolutely" willing to offer technical or financial assistance to other countries that want to unload their stockpiles. He said he had no estimate on what the cost of the Ukraine agreement would be to the US.

The summit is the latest in a series of steps by Obama on one of his foreign policy goals, laying the groundwork for someday eliminating nuclear weapons. The meeting follows his signing of a treaty with Russia last week to further cut their atomic weapons and the release of an administration doctrine that reduces the role of nuclear arms in US defense strategy.

The possibility of a terrorist group getting a nuclear weapon is "the single biggest threat to US security" in the near and distant future, Obama said Sunday before meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma.

Along with al-Qaida, groups that have sought nuclear weapons include the Aum Shinrikyo cult that killed 12 people in a 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, according to Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University who once worked as an adviser on US nuclear controls.

The United Nations atomic-energy agency has documented 18 cases of theft or loss of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, not counting incidents that individual countries haven't confirmed, he said.

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