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Ukraine to get rid of 'all' highly enriched uranium
In the first breakthrough at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) announced Monday that the former Soviet republic would dispose of all its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium by 2012.
AFP - Ukraine, the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident, pledged here Monday to dispose of all its stocks of highly enriched uranium by 2012, Ukrainian and US officials said.
The landmark commitment from the former Soviet republic came at the start of an unprecedented nuclear security summit, gathering 47 nations and hosted by US President Barack Obama.
The announcement came after Obama met for the first time with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who took office in February.
"President Yanukovych announced Ukraine's decision to get rid of all of its stocks of highly-enriched uranium by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit," the two leaders said in a joint statement
"Ukraine intends to remove a substantial part of those stocks this year," it added.
"President Obama praised Ukraine's decision as a historic step and a reaffirmation of Ukraine's leadership in nuclear security and nonproliferation."
Gibbs said the United States would help provide technical expertise and financing for the disposal of the uranium in Ukraine, which witnessed the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.
The two leaders also "agreed to explore ways to strengthen cooperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, including development of Ukrainian nuclear research capabilities and efforts to diversify Ukraine's nuclear power industry's fuel supply."
Ukraine's promise to dispose of all highly enriched uranium by 2012 marked the first concrete achievement of the summit. It was also a highly symbolic act by a country that gave up its Soviet-era nuclear missiles.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 at 1:23 am, when one of the reactors exploded -- contaminating the then Soviet states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with the fallout also spreading to other parts of Europe.
Over 25,000 people known as "liquidators" -- most of them Ukrainians, Russians and Belarussians -- died getting the accident under control and constructing a concrete shield over the wreckage, according to Ukrainian official figures.
A United Nations toll published in September 2005 set the number of victims at just 4,000, a figure challenged by non-governmental organizations.
In Ukraine alone, 2.3 million people are designated officially as "having suffered from the catastrophe."
Some 4,400 Ukrainians, children or adolescents at the time of the accident, have undergone operations for thyroid cancer, the most common consequence of radiation, the health ministry says.
In the largest global meeting hosted by a US leader since 1945, Obama is hoping to win pledges on securing loose nuclear material in weapons, atomic reactors and stockpiles within four years.
Top powers were to talk for two days about the increasingly diffuse nuclear threat, focusing especially on stocks of separated plutonium and enriched uranium which could be used by militant groups to manufacture crude, but devastating weapons.