In boost for Obama, Belarus gives up nuke material

Former Soviet republic's decision will help goal of securing world's nuclear materials to deny nuclear weapons to terrorists.

December 2, 2010 14:21
1 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

Obama311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — In a sudden turnaround Thursday, the former Soviet republic of Belarus announced Wednesday that it will give up all its weapons-grade uranium.

The Belarus decision is a diplomatic victory for US President Barack Obama, who has set a goal of securing all the world's nuclear materials within four years as a centerpiece of his strategy for denying nuclear weapons to terrorists.

Belarus, which had been a holdout, was banned from an April nuclear security summit hosted by Obama, along with Iran and North Korea.

The amount of material Belarus will send to Russia for disposal was not mentioned but is believed to be enough to make at least several nuclear bombs. Belarus, which gained independence in the breakup of the Soviet Union, gave up its Soviet-origin nuclear weapons in 1994, but retained highly enriched uranium stocks for research purposes.

US officials portrayed Belarus' sudden reversal as a recognition that it would benefit from building a power-generating nuclear reactor that runs on low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to make nuclear weapons without further enrichment. Clinton said the US would support Belarus in its pursuit of such a reactor, but details were not released.

With its decision to give up its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium by 2012, Belarus secured an invitation to the next nuclear security summit, to be held in South Korea in two years. Earlier this month the US completed, with British help, an even more ambitious project to secure tons of highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium in Kazakhstan.

"We can be confident it will now never fall into the wrong hands," Clinton said of the newly secured Kazakh nuclear materials.

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