(AFP) Dec 31, 2010 The United States has helped Ukraine remove 50 kilos (111 pounds) of highly enriched uranium from three Ukrainian sites to be disposed of in Russia, US officials announced Friday. The move was made as part of a pledge by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at a nuclear security summit in Washington in April to remove all his country's highly enriched uranium -- which can be used to make atomic weapons -- by 2012.
"This action brings us all one step closer to securing all vulnerable nuclear materials," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
"These actions represent continued Ukrainian leadership in making sure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of a terrorist, and working toward a world without nuclear weapons."
In April 2009, Obama promised in a landmark speech in Prague to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. But he has admitted he does not expect to see that goal reached in his lifetime.
"The removal of this highly enriched uranium from Ukraine is a major milestone that brings us one step closer to US President Obama's goal of securing all nuclear material around the world within four years," said Thomas D'Agostino, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Five flights in the last half of December were made to remove the highly enriched uranium, fly it to Russia in specially designed caskets, and replace it with low enriched uranium for Ukraine, the NNSA said in its statement.
"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 added.
As part of the deal, NNSA flew two air shipments of low enriched uranium -- which cannot be used to make a bomb -- to replace the highly enriched uranium 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," the NNSA statement added.
The United States also provided Ukraine with new safety equipment and agreed to work with Kiev and Moscow to build a state-of-the-art neutron source facility at the Kharkiv Institute, it added.
"The low enriched uranium and nuclear safety equipment provided to Ukraine in connection with this shipment will support Ukraine's development of safe and secure nuclear energy," Obama added in his statement.
In May, the NNSA working with Ukrainian authorities also successfully removed 56 kilograms (123 pounds) of Russian-origin highly-enriched uranium spent fuel which was taken to Russia by train for storage and disposal.
The US nuclear administration said it had now removed or helped to dispose of 3,085 kilograms (6,700 pounds) of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, adding that represented "enough material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons."