Ukraine has sent a "significant portion" of its highly enriched uranium stock to Russia under a deal with the United States aimed at preventing 'nuclear terrorism', the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the move as a step towards a world without nuclear weapons.
"These actions represent continued Ukrainian leadership in making sure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of a terrorist," Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, said in a statement.
Kiev, which voluntarily gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed, agreed with Washington in April to get rid of the stocks entirely by 2012, and convert its civilian nuclear research facilities to operate with low enriched uranium fuel.
"Ukraine has fulfilled its obligations by removing a significant portion of these nuclear materials," the ministry said in a statement.
"In line with the United States' obligations... Ukraine has received an equivalent amount of low enriched uranium for the needs of... scientific and research facilities." A ministry spokeswoman said the material had been sent to Russia.
The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, said in a statement that 50 kg (111 lb) of uranium had been removed from three sites in Ukraine.
NNSA and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) helped to coordinate the project to ship the material out of Ukraine.
John Kelly, special programme manager for fuel repatriation at the IAEA, said there had been three shipments to Russia by aircraft from three research reactors in Ukraine in the last nine days or so, carried out under tight security.
"They were all successful ... The fuel is already in Russia," he told Reuters. "This is highly valuable material."
In return, there had been two shipments to Ukraine of low-enriched uranium. Highly enriched uranium is usually defined as material enriched to a purity level of 20 percent or more. Around 90 percent enrichment is needed for bombs.
Kelly said the NNSA had provided funding and technical assistance and that the IAEA had helped to organise contracts for the transport.
Last week, the IAEA said about 2,500 kg (5,500 pounds) of highly-radioactive spent atomic fuel, including 13 kg of HEU spent fuel, had arrived safely in Russia after a secret trip under heavy security from Serbia.
Serbia became the sixth country to eliminate all its highly enriched uranium since April 2009, when Obama set out his vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons in a speech in Prague, the NNSA said.
ReutersLast Mod: 01 Ocak 2011, 10:23