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UN Nuclear Watchdog Reports Missing Libya Uranium Recovery

International Atomic Energy Agency

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during the IAEA's General Conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on September 26, 2022. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.N. nuclear watchdog announced on Saturday that inspectors traveling to southern Libya discovered drums containing natural uranium that had been reported missing earlier this month in the country.

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that about 2.5 tons of natural uranium kept at a location in the southern town of Sabha had vanished. The missing materials, according to the Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter’s forces, were discovered close to the storage location.

The Vienna-based organization said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that U.N. inspectors visited the region on March 21 and observed the material being moved to the storage site.

A “very minor amount of UOC (Uranium ore concentrate) was remained unaccounted for,” according to U.N. inspectors, the report added.

Nonetheless, according to the IAEA, there is no present radioactive concern there.

According to the statement, investigations into the situation are still ongoing, including comparing the amounts of naturally occurring uranium at the site to those that the IAEA has previously verified.

The IAEA reported that Rafael Mariano Grossi, its director-general, briefed member nations of the visit’s findings on Friday.

Since the enrichment procedure normally calls for the metal to be transformed into a gas and then spun in centrifuges to reach the required levels, natural uranium cannot be used right away for energy production or as bomb fuel.

But, analysts suggest that over time, each ton of natural uranium can be refined into 5.6 kilos (12 pounds) of weapons-grade material if it is obtained by a party with the necessary technological capabilities and finances.

The material dates back to the time of the late dictator Muammar Gadhafi, who kept tens of thousands of barrels of so-called yellowcake uranium for a facility that he had planned to use to convert uranium into weapons but never got around to building.

Over 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake uranium are said to have been stored in Libya under Gadhafi, who revealed his developing nuclear weapons program to the world in 2003 following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Sabha is situated in the lawless southern Sahara Desert, around 660 kilometers (410 miles) southeast of Tripoli. Following a NATO-backed rebellion that removed and ultimately murdered Gadhafi, Libya has slid into turmoil. The nation has been divided for years between competing governments in the east and west, each supported by armed organizations.

Hifter’s men claimed to have located the drums some 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of the site after the IAEA revealed in mid-March that about 2.5 tons of natural uranium had vanished in Libya.

Assertion statement from Hifter’s forces declare that local Chadian rebel fighters probably attempted to take the drums after mistaking them for guns and ammunition. Hifter’s forces offered no proof to support the charge.

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