Ukraine Nuke Missiles All
Destroyed - Nuke Power
Workers Strike
KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) -- The U.S. ambassador joined senior Ukrainian defense officials Friday to watch Ukraine destroy the last one of more than 100 SS-19 nuclear missiles under a U.S.-financed disarmament program.
The elimination of the final missile was successfully completed in the southeastern city of Dnipropetrovsk at a special dismantling facility built by U.S. companies, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said. American Ambassador Steven Pifer attended.
Ukraine inherited the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal with the 1991 Soviet collapse, which included 130 SS-19 missiles, 46 SS-24 missiles and 44 strategic bombers.
Of these, the country already has successfully destroyed all of the SS-19 missiles and respective missile launch silos, one SS-24 silo and one bomber.
The United States has contributed more than $500 million to help Ukraine dismantle the nuclear weapons infrastructure under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program initiated by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, in 1991.
The Nunn-Lugar program provides for American technical assistance to the former Soviet Union to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and account for weapons materiel.
The elimination of the remaining strategic bombers and ballistic missiles in Ukraine is scheduled to be finished by December 2001.
The country earlier surrendered all its nuclear warheads to Russia and pledged to remain nuclear-free.
Nuclear workers vow protests until wages paid
Workers at Ukraine's nuclear power plants, meanwhile, said they would continue holding protest actions at their stations until the government paid off all salary arrears. The workers say that safety at the plants is being compromised.
Olexander Yurkin, head of the trade union of nuclear plant workers, said that more than 500 workers were taking part in protest actions at tent camps laid out near Ukraine's five nuclear power stations.
He said protesters were determined to continue their action, begun on Wednesday, despite cold weather. "Our people are ready to be in their camps as long as it is necessary to win," Yurkin said.
The protesters are demanding that the government pay off by March 6 salary debts for nuclear plant workers amounting to nearly $15 million.
They say hungry workers and the scanty funding allotted to the sector cannot guarantee the necessary level of safety at plants, and threaten to reduce electricity output if their demands are not met.
Similar protests in front of the government building in the capital Kiev earlier this month led to the sacking of the head of the state nuclear power agency Energoatom. Officials promised to make every effort to meet the protesters' demand by the March 6 deadline.
"The government does everything possible to pay off all salary debts to our nuclear workers by March 6," First Deputy Energy Minister Mykhailo Umanets told Reuters. "We understand very well we have to cover debts to stop these protests."
Ukraine operates five nuclear power plants with 14 Soviet-designed nuclear reactors, which generate almost half the electricity consumed by the country of 50 million people.
It is the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in 1986.