President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine agreed to give up all of his country’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Monday after President Obama's first ever meeting with Yanukovich at the Nuclear Security Summit.
Ukraine will also convert its nuclear reactors that use HEU to ones that will use low-enriched uranium.
HEU and weapons-grade plutonium could be used to make a weapon. The stated purpose of the summit is to prevent these materials — roughly 2,100 tons of which exist throughout the globe — from getting into the wrong hands.
After the USSR collapsed, suddenly-independent Ukraine suddenly possessed the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Eventually Ukraine (as well as Belarus and Kazakhstan) returned to Russia the nuclear weapons and deliver systems and signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state.
Ukraine also inherited quite a bit of fissile material that could be used for a nuclear weapon.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, this includes 67.5 kg of HEU at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, 13.2 kg of HEU at the Institute for Nuclear Research in Kiev, and up to 6.1 kg of HEU at the Sevastopol Naval Research Institute, Naval Academy of the Ukr. MoD.
Ukraine will get rid of most of this fissile material this year, with all of it gone by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit.
The US "has been trying to make this happen for more than 10 years," Gibbs said.
The next Nuclear Security Summit will be in 2012.
Gibbs and WH counterterrorism czar John Brennan would not say where the HEU precisely is in Ukraine, but Gibbs said the amount that would be disposed of would make "several nuclear weapons" and it was more than the 86.8 kg listed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Why is this happening now? Brennan says President Obama made this a "priority item" and there's been "a lot of work done over the last 15 months."