On Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told member states that most of the 2.5 tons of natural uranium ore concentrate (UOC) recently declared missing in Libya has been found, according to a statement seen by Reuters.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog informed member states in a similar confidential statement on 15 March, that 10 drums containing UOC had gone missing from a Libyan site not under government control.
The amount of fissile material is less than that required for a nuclear bomb and would need to go through processes known as conversion, and enrichment to be usable. The IAEA said at the time that losing it “may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns.”
Following statements last week by eastern Libyan forces’ that they had found the UOC drums near a warehouse in southern Libya, the IAEA carried out an inspection on Tuesday. It found that only “a relatively small amount of UOC was still unaccounted for,” Friday’s statement noted.
“Agency inspectors observed that drums that had not been present at the declared location at the time of the previous (inspection) had since been brought back, and left in close proximity to the declared location,” it said.
“Agency inspectors confirmed that these drums contained UOC, and witnessed their transfer back to within the declared location for storage,” the statement added.
Under the rule of late longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya had stored thousands of barrels of so-called yellowcake uranium. This was for a once-planned conversion facility that was never built in his decades-long secret weapons program, according to the Daily Mail.
Estimates put the Libyan stockpile at 1,000 metric tons. Gaddafi declared his nascent nuclear weapons program to the world in 2003, after the US-led invasion of Iraq.
While inspectors removed the last of the enriched uranium from Libya in 2009, the yellowcake remained behind. In 2013, the UN estimated that 6,400 barrels were stored in Sebha.
Since Gaddafi was deposed in 2011, the country has been divided into competing political and military factions.
It is now split between an interim government in the capital, Tripoli, headed by Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba, and another in the east, headed by Fathi Bashagha.