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Libya’s eastern forces say they have recovered missing uranium

The forces of renegade military leader Khalifa Haftar are reporting that natural uranium has been found after the international nuclear watchdog said 2.3 tons had gone missing.

More than 2 tons of natural uranium reported missing by the United Nations nuclear watchdog have been found in Libya, according to troops in the war-ravaged east of the country.

General Khaled al-Mahjoub, leader of renegade commander Khalifa Haftar’s communications division, said on Thursday the containers of uranium had been recovered “barely 5 km” from where they were stored in southern Libya.

Al-Mahjoub referred to 10 missing barrels found near the border with Chad in his statement, though a separate video from his media unit showed workers counting 18 barrels recovered.

“The situation is under control. The IAEA has been informed,” Mahjoub told AFP news agency, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Earlier, the nuclear watchdog had said that about 2.3 tons of natural uranium had disappeared from a site in Libya not under government control, according to news agency reports.

The IAEA warned that the missing uranium posed “a radiological risk and nuclear safety concern”.

Uranium ore concentrate is believed to emit low levels of radioactivity.

The substance is commonly known as “yellowcake”, a powder that consists of about 80 percent uranium oxide. It is used in the preparation of nuclear fuel and can also be enriched for use in nuclear weapons.

The risks of the material are “limited but not negligible,” said a senior Western diplomat.

“Missing nuclear material is a concern for safeguards and nuclear safety, especially given that the site is not under the control of the regulatory authority in Libya,” the source said.

Under the late leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had renounced its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in 2003 following secret talks with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Gaddafi’s government had obtained centrifuges that could enrich uranium, as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, although the country was making little progress in making a nuclear weapon.

Since a NATO-backed insurgency and the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been beset by political crises and competing militias have formed opposing alliances backed by foreign powers. Political control in the country remains divided between a nominally interim government in the capital Tripoli in the west and another in the east, supported by Haftar.

The most recent major fighting only ended in 2020 and sporadic violence continues.