Belarus possesses a sizable quantity of weapon-grade and lower-enriched uranium, but the nation does not intend to use the material for weapons or provide it to another party, President Alexander Lukashenko said Wednesday (see GSN, Sept. 9, 2008).
"Honestly, we have remained in possession of highly enriched uranium, hundreds of kilograms of actual weapons-grade and less enriched uranium," Lukashenko said, according to Interfax.
"Some tell me, get this uranium removed. To America, we'll pay you, or to Russia. I say: First, why are you telling us what to do? This is our commodity and we keep it under [International Atomic Energy Agency] control," he said.
"Then again, we are not going to make dirty bombs and we are not going to sell it to anyone. We are using this uranium for research purposes," Lukashenko said.
Belarus was left with a number of nuclear weapons in its territory following the breakup of the Soviet Union. All the weapons had been sent to Russia by the end of 1996.
The nation was not allowed representation at this week's nuclear security summit in Washington because the former Soviet state refused to turn over the uranium, he said.
"I was driven to the bay with a knife at my throat: 'Give it away!' I said, I had already given away nuclear weapons, and how did we benefit? No one has the right to dictate. Let us sit down at a negotiating table and decide how to deal with this large amount of enriched uranium," he said. "We are not a banana republic and we can keep this nuclear material as we have been doing for 20 years now."
"Okay, they told me. Since you don't want to give this uranium away, we'll not invite you to the nuclear security summit. I said, 'Thank you very much. I was not going to go.' When Israel did not want to be asked questions about nuclear weapons, it just waved its hand to them. Bye bye! I don't care for your summit! My answer was about the same," he said.
"If we had nuclear weapons, they would have dealt with us differently. Minsk would have been given security guarantees and assured that it would be under the protection of these nuclear powers. No security guarantees are being given to us now," Lukashenko said (Interfax/Kyiv Post, April 15).
A former Belarusian lawmaker today challenged Lukashenko's assertion that the nation holds weapon-grade uranium, ITAR-Tass reported.
"Our country has no weapon-grade uranium. The nuclear weapons, which had been deployed in the country, were withdrawn as far back as the 1990s. Along with such arms, weapon-grade uranium left the country as well. The country had no other highly-enriched uranium and could not obtain it later on," former parliament speaker Stanislav Shushkevich told the newspaper Vremya Novostei.
"We cannot enrich uranium because we have no relevant technologies," he noted.
The Belarusian president "had no idea what weapon-grade uranium means," Shushkevich said. "Maybe, he [meant] the uranium used for experiments at a research reactor near Minsk. Experiments staged there were useful for scientific purposes, but uranium used in such experiments was not pure, it cannot be labeled as weapon-grade."
Addressing Lukashenko's explanation for his country not being welcomed at this week's summit, the lawmaker said: "Today, Belarus can neither help nor hinder anyone as far as disarmament is concerned. It simply plays no role, so its presence at the summit was pointless" (ITAR-Tass, April 16).