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Uncovering Libya’s Lost Uranium: International Atomic Energy Agency Investigates


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UN inspectors announced that they had found missing uranium in southern Libya.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this month that about 2.5 tons of natural uranium stored at a site in the southern town of Sebha had gone missing. The forces of Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar said they found the missing materials near the storage site.

The Vienna-based agency said in a statement to the Associated Press on Saturday that UN inspectors visited the area on March 21 and witnessed the transfer of materials to the storage site.

The UN inspectors found that “a relatively small amount of UOC (uranium ore concentrate) remains unaccounted for,” she said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said, however, that there were no immediate radiological hazards at the site.

The statement said investigations are still ongoing, including matching the quantities of natural uranium at the site with those previously verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said its director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, informed member states on Friday of the results of the visit.

Natural uranium cannot be used immediately to produce energy or bomb fuel. The enrichment process usually requires converting the metal into a gas and then spinning it in centrifuges to reach the required levels.

But experts say that each ton of natural uranium – if obtained by a group with the technological means and resources – can be refined into 5.6 kilograms (12 pounds) of weapons-grade material over time.

The material dates back to the rule of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who stockpiled thousands of barrels of so-called yellowcake uranium for a once-planned but never built uranium conversion facility in his secret, decades-spanning weapons programme.

It is estimated that the Libyan stockpile is about 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake uranium under Gaddafi, who announced his nascent nuclear program to the world in 2003 after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Sebha is located about 660 kilometers (410 miles) southeast of Tripoli, in the southern reaches of the lawless Sahara Desert. Libya was plunged into chaos in the aftermath of the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Gaddafi. The country has been divided for years between two rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups.

After the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in mid-March that about 2.5 tons of natural uranium had disappeared in Libya, Haftar’s forces said they had found the barrels 5 kilometers south of the facility.

Haftar’s forces claimed, in a statement, that the Chadian separatist fighters, who are active in the area, most likely tried to steal the drums after they mistook them for weapons and ammunition. However, Haftar’s forces have not provided any evidence for this accusation.

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