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From Washington to Seoul: Advancing nuclear security

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Aug. 6, 2012, 11:27 a.m. | Op-ed — by Oleksandr Motsyk

An elderly woman passes sculptures dedicated to the memory of the men who liquidated the stricken reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Kiev during a memorial ceremony on April 26, 2012. Ukraine launched construction of a new shelter to permanently secure the stricken Chernobyl plant as it marked the 26th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster. President Viktor Yanukovych pressed a symbolic button at the construction site, watched by workers and ambassadors from China, Japan and a number of other countries that contributed to the massive project, expected to cost 1.5 billion euros. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY
© AFP

In March, the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul gathered 58 world leaders, including the presidents of Ukraine and the United States, to discuss and practically advance the safety of the planet Earth, how to make it nuclear free and better place to live.

 Ukraine, which has a long record of being champion and advocate of nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of atomic energy, supported the Nuclear Security Summit’s agenda.

 U.S. President Barack Obama in his Prague speech in 2009 made clear that the United States will make concrete steps in making our world free of nuclear weapons. And my country fully subscribes to this message.

 It concerns not only reducing nuclear arsenals – warheads and rockets -- but also banning the nuclear testing, and stopping production of weapon-grade materials.

 The indispensable part of today’s nuclear security is protection of the existing nuclear materials, combating its smuggling and preventing from getting into the hands of terrorists. Therefore, in Washington, during the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, Ukraine and the United States reaffirmed their shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, pledged to work together to prevent nuclear proliferation and realize the Nuclear Security Summit’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials.

 In Washington, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced Ukraine’s historic decision to get rid of its stocks of highly-enriched uranium by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. In turn, the United States committed to provide necessary technical and financial assistance to support this effort.

 Both presidents in a statement following their meeting praised Ukraine’s decision as a historic step and a reaffirmation of Ukraine’s leadership in nuclear security and nonproliferation. Ukraine joins the United States in the international effort to convert civil nuclear research facilities to operate using low enriched uranium fuel, which is becoming the global standard in the 21st century, and is safer, secure and cannot be used by terrorist groups or adversaries to commit acts of terror or threaten public security and health.

 To formalize the commitments of the presidents in 2010, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko and U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton signed the Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear security cooperation in September 2011. As it was stated by Secretary Clinton: “This deal is a win-win for both countries and both peoples.”

 Gryshchenko stressed that “we are working together to relieve Ukraine of the burden of having highly enriched uranium in the time when low enriched uranium is really an answer to many of the issues.”

 The Seoul Summit on March 26-27 has become yet another milestone in our bilateral cooperation. The leaders met in Seoul to express appreciation for Ukraine’s complete removal of its highly enriched uranium stocks and agreed that it was an important step towards securing all vulnerable nuclear materials and an important milestone for global security. We will continue our cooperation on the construction of the Neutron Source Facility at Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology to ensure that it is fully operational by April 2014.

 This facility will enable Ukrainian scientists to expand their nuclear research and produce more than 50 different medical isotopes to treat cancer and other diseases.

 However, securing the vulnerable nuclear materials is not the only achievement of the Summit. In Seoul, Yanukovych announced an initiative to establish at the Chornobyl site a new state-of-the-art International Research Center to study, prevent and mitigate technological disasters and make use of the atomic energy safer. The Chornobyl catastrophe took place more than a quarter century ago, but still its bell tolls in the hearts of Ukrainian people. Among all the tragedies that mankind has faced, the Chornobyl catastrophe has no analogies. It has left its disastrous trace on the ecosystem, caused multiplied health hazards of humans, deteriorated social, economic and life conditions.

 In April 2011, to commemorate the 25th solemn anniversary of Chornobyl, we hosted Kyiv Summit on Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy and the Pledging Conference to raise funds for

the Chornobyl projects. Initiated by Yanukovych, these events raised $750 million for the completion of safe confinement covering the destroyed unit and safely disposal of all nuclear fuel at the Chornobyl site. The construction of the confinement began on April 26 on the 26th anniversary of the Chornobyl tragedy. It will be completed in three years and will transform the site into an environmentally safe and secure area.

 It is our strong belief that only joint international efforts will lead to a world free of nuclear weapons and peaceful and safe use of atomic energy. Only in concerted action will we succeed in accomplishing these noble goals.

 Olexander Motsyk is ambassador of Ukraine to the United States. Motsyk, a career diplomat, has worked for more than 30 years in foreign relations. Prior to his assignment in the U.S. he served as ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey and Poland. The op-ed was first published in "The Diplomatic Courier" magazine. (May-June, 2012, issue, http://www.diplomaticourier.com/). 

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