At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington yesterday, Ukraine agreed to give up all of its highly-enriched uranium (HEU) by 2012. The United States will provide "financial and technical" assistance to destroy the HEU.
Ukraine, briefly, was the third largest nuclear weapons state after the Soviet Union dissolved, but it gave its nuclear weapons back to Russia and joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994. However, Ukraine kept some highly-enriched uranium at three research reactors in Kiev, Sevastopol, and Kharkiv. The United States offered to repurchase the HEU in 2002 because of its concern that it would fall into the hands of a rogue state, but Ukraine refused.
At the research reactor at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, some scientists were concerned that Iraq might be putting out feelers for its 75 kg of 90% enriched HEU in 2002. (That is enough for one, maybe two, gun-type nuclear bombs.) In 2002, Iraq established a diplomatic office in Kharkiv, and appointed a Ukrainian businessman who had made 40 trips to Iraq as its honorary consul. Iraq also sent three delegations to the city from 1998-2002, with one touring the facility.
Of course, none of this amounts to a "smoking gun" for Iraqi WMD, but Ukraine's announcement is a commendable achievement for nonproliferation given potential interest in its HEU. Few countries are having a worse financial crisis than Ukraine, and it is possible that scientists could be tempted to hand over nuclear material for financial reasons. President Viktor Yanukovich deserves credit for agreeing to destroy its HEU stock.
In other Nuclear Security Summit news, many streets are closed in DC, creating a traffic nightmare. Follow me on Twitter. E-mail can be sent to email@example.com. (AP Photo: Alex Brandon-Yanukovich and Obama.)