Libyan Militias announced that they had Found the Missing Uranium

World | March 17, 2023, Friday // 10:13
Bulgaria: Libyan Militias announced that they had Found the Missing Uranium @Pixabay

Armed militias in eastern Libya said they had found about two and a half tonnes of uranium ore that had been declared missing by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the BBC reported on Friday.

Ten barrels of unenriched uranium were found near the border with Chad, the head of the media unit of the force announced. It is unclear whether the group took the uranium or discovered it.

The BBC shows a video in which a man wearing protective clothing counts 18 barrels marked "Uranium" which are placed outdoors in the desert among other, rusting barrels.

The IAEA said it was "actively working to verify" the media reports.

The agency sounded the alarm after a visit by its inspectors earlier this week to a site where 10 barrels of low-enriched uranium were revealed to be missing. The IAEA said the site was not under the control of the government in Tripoli, and the Associated Press agency said it was a site in Sebha, about 600 km southeast of the Libyan capital.

The depleted uranium cannot be turned into a nuclear weapon in its current state, but could be used as feedstock for a nuclear weapons program, experts have told the BBC.

The amount of missing uranium contains enough of the isotope U-235 to create a first-generation nuclear bomb if enriched to more than 90 percent, Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Reuters.

"It is not a direct or immediate threat of nuclear proliferation, but the loss of a large amount of natural uranium is a concern because of its potential to become material for use in nuclear weapons," he told the agency.

Dr. Lyman added that the incident raises questions about the ability of the UN's nuclear regulator, the IAEA, to maintain awareness of nuclear materials located in countries in active war zones.

In December 2003, under then-military leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya publicly renounced nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. But since Colonel Gaddafi was ousted in 2011, the country has been divided into competing political and military factions.

It is now divided between an interim, internationally recognized government in the capital Tripoli and another to the east in Benghazi.

Neither of them controls the south, where the uranium is taken from.

Thursday's statement about the discovery of the uranium came from the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), the military force that supports the unrecognized eastern Libyan administration.

The LNA is a coalition of military units, local, tribal and Salafi militias led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a veteran officer involved in the coup that brought Colonel Gaddafi to power in 1969.

The LNA said the uranium containers were found about five kilometers (three miles) from where they were stored in southern Libya.

The IAEA says the site has been difficult to access recently.

Inspectors wanted to visit the site last year, but the trip had to be postponed due to fighting between rival Libyan militias.

Many foreign governments and groups have been vying for influence in Libya since NATO-backed forces ousted Colonel Gaddafi. They include Russia's Wagner group, which supports the LNA.

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Tags: Libyan, uranium, IAEA, nuclear

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