Uranium said missing by IAEA in Libya recovered: military
Several containers of natural uranium reported missing by the UN nuclear watchdog have been found in war-torn Libya, a general from one of the country’s two rival camps said on Thursday.
General Khaled al-Mahjoub, the commander of eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar’s communications division, said on his Facebook page that the uranium containers were recovered “barely five kilometers (three miles)” from where they were stored in the Sabha area of southern Libya . .
“The situation is under control. The IAEA has been informed,” Mahjoub told AFP.
On Wednesday the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna reported that 2.5 tonnes of natural uranium had gone missing from a site in Libya.
After the discovery announced on Thursday, the IAEA said it was trying to verify the information.
Uranium ore concentrates are thought to release low levels of radioactivity.
IAEA inspectors on Tuesday determined that “10 ridges containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium ore concentrate … were not present” as previously announced at the site, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi wrote in a report to the member states.
The substance is commonly known as “yellowcake”, a powder composed of about 80 percent uranium oxide. It is used in the preparation of nuclear fuel for reactors, and can also be enriched for use in nuclear weapons.
Risks from the material are “limited but not negligible,” according to a senior Western diplomat.
“The absence of nuclear material is a nuclear defense and security concern, especially since the site is not under the control of the regulatory authority in Libya,” the source said.
– Years of chaos –
Libya has been in crisis since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, with dozens of militias forming opposition alliances backed by foreign powers.
The North African country remains split between a nominal interim government in the capital Tripoli in the west, and another in the east backed by Haftar.
Mahjoub published a video showing a man in a protective suit counting 18 blue containers, all stored on the site.
The general suggested that the containers were stolen and then abandoned by “Chadian factions who thought they were weapons or ammunition”.
Taking advantage of Libya’s years of chaos and porous borders in the desert region, fighters from neighboring Chad and Sudan have established rear bases in southern Libya.
An inspection of the site was originally scheduled for 2022 but had to be postponed due to the “security situation in the region”, the IAEA said.
He added that he regularly monitored the site through commercial satellite imagery and other open source information.
Analysis of these images led the agency to conduct a physical inspection, despite the security risk and logistical challenge, she said.
On Facebook, Mahjoub said that after the investigation revealed the event, Haftar’s allied forces recovered the containers.
Libya had a suspected nuclear weapons program under Kadhafi. It was destroyed in 2003 but during the uprising against Kadhafi a yellow cake storage site was discovered at a desert oasis in the Sabha area.
After visiting the site in 2011, the IAEA recommended that the yellowcake barrels be sold or moved because storage conditions were deteriorating and the site lacked security.