U.S., Ukraine to Safeguard Nuclear Waste

KIEV, Ukraine -- The United States and Ukraine signed an agreement Thursday to safeguard nuclear waste in the former Soviet Republic that could be used by terrorists to make a dirty bomb, pledging to work together to upgrade security at storage facilities.

The deal was signed by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman during a two-day visit in which the United States is expected to press for improved nuclear security and cash-strapped Ukraine is expected to push for more funding.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman

The agreement "is a significant step forward in our partnership to safeguard these radioactive materials and advance the security of the region," Bodman said after signing the document with Ukrainian Minister for Emergency Situations David Zhvaniya.

A dirty bomb combines conventional explosives with radioactive material to disperse the waste over large areas. It is estimated that a medium-size bomb could contaminate several city blocks.

Under the agreement, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's Office of Global Radiological Threat Reduction will work with local officials to upgrade security at the six Ukrainian nuclear waste facilities.

Bodman said President Bush and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko had pledged to cooperate to promote nuclear safety, security of nuclear materials, and nonproliferation after meeting in Washington earlier this year.

Bodman, who met Yushchenko on Thursday, was to also use his visit to encourage the handover of Soviet-produced, enriched nuclear fuel to Russia, the U.S Embassy in Kiev said.

He was also expected to review the conversion of Ukraine's research reactors to the use of low-enriched uranium. Such a conversion would lower the risk of accidents and possible leakage of nuclear components to terrorists.

Cash-strapped Ukraine needs additional financial resources for the expensive task of sending used fuel rods back to Russia for reprocessing and converting its reactors to low-enriched fuel.

Ukraine's Soviet-built reactors are fueled by high-enriched uranium that could also be used for the production of weapons-grade nuclear material. Ukraine doesn't have the capacity to reprocess the used fuel itself.

At a recent conference in London, Western donors including the United States pledged more funds for the upgrade of Ukrainian nuclear power plants and for the handling of nuclear waste.

The West also offered additional money for building a new structure that will cover crumbling concrete and steel shelter hastily erected over the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl, which exploded and burned in 1986 in the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Source: LA Times