On Thursday, March 16, 2023, an official in the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya announced the discovery of uranium containers, which the International Atomic Energy Agency had previously revealed were missing in the country.
“In response to what was stated in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on the loss of 2.5 tons of uranium” in Libya, the Secretary-General of the General Command of the Libyan Armed Forces, Major General Khaled Al-Mahjoub, said, “A force from the army was assigned and found these barrels in an area only About five kilometers from the warehouse,” where it was originally in the Sabha region in southern Libya.
Al-Mahjoub confirmed in a phone call with Agence France-Presse that the agency had been informed of the discovery of the barrels, and that “the situation is under control.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna reported on Wednesday the loss of 2.5 tons of natural uranium from a Libyan site.
After announcing the finding of the material Thursday, it said it was working to verify the information.
And according to a report prepared by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, to the member states, the inspectors of the UN body discovered during a visit that they conducted on Tuesday to Libya that “ten containers containing about 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium concentrate (“yellow cake”) were no longer returned. It is located in the location that the authorities had announced.”
Although the “yellow cake” is considered a substance with a low level of radioactivity, the loss of the material raises “concerns in terms of nuclear security,” according to a confidential document seen by Agence France-Presse Thursday.
A senior Western diplomat said the material risk was “limited, but not insignificant”. He added that “the loss of nuclear materials constitutes concerns related to nuclear security, especially since the site is not under the control of the government in Libya,” which is recognized by the United Nations and is based in Tripoli.
years of chaos
Al-Mahjoub explained that the containers were located in a site in southern Libya, and that the IAEA visited it in 2020, made an inventory of the quantity, and “closed the warehouse door with red wax.”
He pointed out that the agency pledged at the time to secure “the needs of the guards,” which include “special clothes, masks, and others to protect those charged with guarding against the diseases caused by this substance,” but the agency did not provide these needs, according to the statement. The guards had to stay away from the warehouse.
Al-Mahjoub attached his statement, posted on his Facebook page, to a videotape showing a man wearing protective clothing counting 18 barrels.
In his statement, he believed that whoever seized the barrels “is ignorant of their nature and does not know their danger, and left them after realizing that they are useless,” and it is likely that the culprit is a Chadian faction.
The International Atomic Energy Agency monitors the site on a regular basis “through analysis of satellite imagery and open access to information”, and in light of the results of these analyzes it wanted to visit it “despite the alarming security situation in the region and the complex logistics” to access it.
The inspection was scheduled to take place last year, but it was postponed due to the delicate situation in Libya, according to the IAEA report.
In 2003, Libya abandoned its program to develop nuclear weapons under former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
However, during the uprising that overthrew the Gaddafi regime, a yellowcake storage site was discovered in a desert oasis in the Sabha region.
After a site visit in 2011, the IAEA recommended that the drums of yellowcake be sold or moved as storage conditions and insecurity at the site deteriorated.
Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after 42 years of rule, Libya has witnessed chaos and power struggles. Today, two governments are fighting over power, one in the capital (west) headed by Abdul Hamid al-Dabiba, and the other in Sirte headed by Fathi Bashagha, supported by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the strong man in the Libyan east.