Ukraine to dispose of its uranium

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

Chile rid of nuclear 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Chile rid of nuclear 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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 briefingthat al-Qaida is determined to gain the material to fabricate a nucleardevice and such a weapon is the "most prized goal of terrorist groups."
"Wecannot wait any longer before we lock down those stockpiles," Brennansaid. The consequences for failure would be "devastating."
Gibbssaid the US is "absolutely" willing to offer technical or financialassistance to other countries that want to unload their stockpiles. Hesaid he had no estimate on what the cost of the Ukraine agreement wouldbe to the US.
The summit is the latest in a series of steps byObama on one of his foreign policy goals, laying the groundwork forsomeday eliminating nuclear weapons. The meeting follows his signing ofa treaty with Russia last week to further cut their atomic weapons andthe release of an administration doctrine that reduces the role ofnuclear arms in US defense strategy.
The possibility of aterrorist group getting a nuclear weapon is "the single biggest threatto US security" in the near and distant future, Obama said Sundaybefore meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma.
Alongwith al-Qaida, groups that have sought nuclear weapons include the AumShinrikyo cult that killed 12 people in a 1995 sarin gas attack on theTokyo subway, according to Matthew Bunn, an associate professor atHarvard University who once worked as an adviser on US nuclear controls.
TheUnited Nations atomic-energy agency has documented 18 cases of theft orloss of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, not counting incidentsthat individual countries haven't confirmed, he said.