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NNSA Achieves Milestone in Removal of HEU from Ukraine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the removal of 50 kilograms (111 pounds) of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fresh fuel from three sites in Ukraine.  The shipments were completed in a joint effort with counterparts in Ukraine and are an important step in implementing President Yanukovych's commitment at the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit to remove all of Ukraine’s HEU by 2012, with a substantial portion removed by the end of this year.

“The removal of this highly enriched uranium from Ukraine is a major milestone that brings us one step closer to achieving President Obama’s goal of securing all nuclear material around the world within four years,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “At the Nuclear Security Summit in April, world leaders pledged to take action and make nuclear security a global effort.  Ukraine’s contributions are a key part of that effort. These shipments were completed in close partnership with Ukraine, which has demonstrated leadership in the global effort to secure and consolidate highly enriched uranium to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.”

Through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), NNSA worked closely with Ukrainian authorities, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom to complete this very complicated operation. It required five flights of uranium during the last half of December.

Prior to removing the HEU, NNSA completed two air shipments of low enriched uranium (LEU) to replace the HEU located at the Kiev Institute for Nuclear Research and the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology. The remaining three flights removed fresh HEU from the facilities in Kiev and Kharkiv as well as the Sevastopol National University of Nuclear Industry and Energy.  

In addition to replacing the HEU that was returned to Russia with LEU that cannot be used for nuclear weapons, NNSA also provided the Ukrainians with new safety equipment and agreed to work with Ukraine and Russia to build a state-of-the-art neutron source facility at the Kharkiv Institute.

The fresh HEU removed from Ukraine was transported by plane in specially-designed casks to Russia for secure storage and disposition.  In addition to these shipments, NNSA and Ukrainian authorities successfully removed 56 kilograms of Russian-origin HEU spent fuel in May 2010.  That material was transported to Russia by train for secure storage and disposition. Joint efforts are underway to remove all remaining HEU from Ukraine before the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012.

Ukraine has a long and significant history in supporting nuclear nonproliferation. In the early 1990s, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nuclear weapons left on its territory and joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.  More recently, Ukraine was one of the first nations to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

In a speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. Shipments like these recently completed from Ukraine result in permanent threat reduction because they eliminate weapons-usable nuclear material at civilian sites. With the successful completion of these shipments, NNSA has now removed or assisted with the disposition of 3,085 kilograms of HEU and plutonium – enough material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons.

Photos and B-Roll from the operation are available on NNSA’s Flickr and YouTube pages.

A fact sheet on NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative is available online here.

A fact sheet on NNSA’s efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism is available here.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.