A consignment of enriched uranium - enough to make a nuclear weapon, according to a U.S. expert - rumbled out of a Ukrainian railway depot late on Saturday bound forRussia, a move designed to coincide with an international summit on nuclear security.
The 19 kilograms (42 pounds) of spent highly enriched uranium, loaded in four containers onto rail carriers in a high-security operation, was the last such material to be removed from the ex-Soviet republic under a two-year programme with theUnited StatesandRussia.
The completion of the programme was timed to raise the curtain on a March 26-27 nuclear security summit inSeoul, South Korea, to be attended by leaders from 50 countries including U.S. PresidentBarack ObamaandUkraine‘sViktor Yanukovich.
The summit will focus on measures to protect nuclear materials and facilities and to prevent illicit trafficking.
"What you are seeing here is enough material to make one nuclear weapon,"Andrew Bieniawski, director of the Global Reduction Threat Initiative of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, told Reuters as the containers were loaded under guard at the depot outsideKiev.
"Ukraineis the model for future shipments … We can say the world is safer. If you remove this material you make a country permanently safer because terrorists can not acquire nuclear material," he said.
The enriched uranium shipped out on Saturday had been used in a reactor at a nuclear research facility inKiev.
TheSeoulconference will provide a rare opportunity for Yanukovich to rub shoulders with Obama and other Western leaders.
He has been left out in the cold by severalEuropean Unionleaders at international gatherings and chastised by the United States because of the jailing of Ukrainian opposition leaderYulia Tymoshenkoon charges of abuse-of-office which Western governments say were politically motivated. (Writing By Richard Balmforth Editing by Maria Golovnina)