Ukraine transports uranium to Russia
WASHINGTON — In a secret operation to secure nuclear material, the United States has helped Ukraine send to Russia enough uranium to build two atomic bombs.
This week’s removal of more than 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium followed a pledge by Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, to get rid of all of his country’s highly enriched uranium by April 2012. The material will be blended down in Russia, rendering it useless for bomb making.
Details of the operation were provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Yanukovych agreed to give up the uranium in a deal announced at a nuclear security summit hosted by President Obama in April. Yesterday, Obama praised Yanukovych for the shipment.
“These actions represent continued Ukrainian leadership in making sure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of a terrorist, and working toward a world without nuclear weapons,’’ Obama said in a statement.
As an incentive, the United States is providing replacement low-enriched uranium that can be used for Ukraine’s research reactors. Low-enriched uranium cannot be used for weapons.
The summit deal also has the United States building a $25 million “neutron source facility’’ nuclear research project for Ukraine, the administration said. The facility will be able to produce 50 types of medical isotopes, using only low-enriched uranium.
Thomas D’Agostino, head of the US National Nuclear Security Administration, called the uranium removal operation an important step toward Obama’s goal of securing the world’s nuclear material within four years.
Ukraine gave a major boost to arms control in 1994 when it agreed to surrender the nuclear weapons it inherited after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The removal operation completed Thursday involved 21 specially designed casks for the uranium to be flown on five flights from three cities.