An estimated 2.5 tons of uranium that was supposed to be stored at a site in Libya was not there when International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors came to visit, Reuters reported on Wednesday citing a confidential statement by the UN watchdog.
IAEA inspectors “found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of UOC (uranium ore concentrate) previously declared by [Libya] … as being stored at that location were not present at the location,” Reuters cited Director General Rafael Grossi as saying.
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The inspection was carried out on Tuesday. It was originally scheduled for last year, but “had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region,” Grossi noted in the one-page report sent to IAEA members.
IAEA will carry out “further activities” to determine the uranium’s whereabouts and how it went missing from the site. The agency did not name the location, saying only that it was not under the control of the internationally recognized government and that reaching it required “complex logistics.”
Libya had obtained uranium enrichment centrifuges and atomic bomb designs, but gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, in a bid to repair relations with the West. Eight years later, NATO backed an insurrection against the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi, bombing Libya on behalf of the militants.
On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council voted for the US proposal to establish a “no-fly zone” over Libya, on humanitarian grounds. Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany abstained.
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Within days, NATO would launch a bombing campaign against the government, while the US and UK navies blockaded the Libyan coast. Gaddafi was gruesomely executed in October 2011. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was informed of his death during a TV interview, she laughed and said “We came, we saw, he died.”
Once the most prosperous country in Africa, Libya soon collapsed into civil war between rival warlords. The UN-backed interim government was supposed to organize elections in December 2021, but never did. The country has been de facto partitioned between factions based in Tripoli and Benghazi.