Ukraine Emptied of Highly Enriched Uranium

A train on Saturday headed toward Russia with the last of Ukraine's highly enriched uranium, Reuters reported (see GSN, March 22).

Four receptacles containing 42 pounds of used nuclear weapon-usable uranium were placed within railcars at a train station near Kiev. The train then began the five-day trip to the Mayak nuclear reprocessing site in the Ural mountains of Russia.

"What you are seeing here is enough material to make one nuclear weapon," said Andrew Bieniawski, who heads the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The undertaking completes the repatriation of 441 pounds of highly enriched uranium from the former Soviet republic to Russia since 2010. The uranium had once fueled a nuclear research reactor in the Ukrainian capital.

Kiev first agreed during the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington to by this year divest itself of all highly enriched uranium. In return it received low-enriched uranium fuel and associated technology through a deal with Moscow and Washington, recent reporting indicated.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had already announced last Thursday that the nation no longer held any highly enriched uranium, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Ukraine HEU removal effort is ending just as world leaders meet again in South Korea for the second Nuclear Security Summit (see related GSN story, today). Additional security projects are being announced in Seoul with the aim of preventing terrorists from acquiring material for use in nuclear or radiological weapons.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Vietnam are expected in the next four years to divest themselves of highly enriched uranium, according to Bieniawski.

"Ukraine is the model for future shipments. ... We can say the world is safer. If you remove this material you make a country permanently safer because terrorists cannot acquire nuclear material," the official said (Richard Balmforth, Reuters, March 26).

The National Nuclear Security Administration said its GTRI program as of Friday had secured 30,000 retired radioactive sources. Such sources are used in sectors such as industry and medicine; some could be employed in producing radiological "dirty bombs," which would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material.

The milestone source was taken out of a site in North Carolina, according to an NNSA press release.

“This marks an important milestone for NNSA and GTRI,” NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington said in provided comments. “GTRI’s domestic work to reduce the threat of dirty bombs is comprehensive in scope, well-coordinated with other agencies, states and the private sector, and results oriented.”

The GTRI program aims to extract and secure sensitive materials around the world, and to move research sites away from the use of weapon-capable nuclear materials (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, March 23).

March 26, 2012

A train on Saturday headed toward Russia with the last of Ukraine's highly enriched uranium, Reuters reported.