The international community is breathing. One of the two rival camps in a chaotic Libya announced on Thursday that it had found containers containing around 2.5 tonnes of natural uranium, reported as having disappeared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
General Khaled al-Mahjoub, commander of the communications directorate of the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, said listed on Facebook that the containers had been found “barely five kilometers” from the site where they were stored in the Sebha region in the south of the country.
He published a video showing a man wearing a protective suit counting, in English, 18 barrels of blue color, that is to say all of the uranium that was stored on the site. “The situation is under control. The IAEA has been informed,” General Mahjoub told AFP.
“Not insignificant risks”
“We are aware of the press reports that the material has been found and the Agency is actively trying to verify it,” reacted the IAEA in Vienna. On Wednesday, the agency had reported the disappearance of about 2.5 tons of natural uranium from a site in Libya, according to a statement sent to AFP.
During a visit on Tuesday, UN inspectors “discovered that 10 containers with approximately 2.5 tonnes of natural uranium in the form of uranium concentrate (UOC, also called ‘yellow cake’) were not were not present where they had been declared by the authorities,” Director General Rafael Grossi wrote in a report to member states.
The risks of the disappearance of this uranium are “limited but not negligible”, had then indicated a Western diplomat in Vienna. “The disappearance of nuclear materials poses a problem of safeguards and nuclear security, especially since the site is not under the control of the regulatory authority in Libya”, according to this source.
General Mahjoub claimed on Facebook that after the containers were found missing during a visit by IAEA inspectors, “an LNA force found them just five km from the depot towards the Chadian border”. He estimated that the containers were stolen before being abandoned “by a Chadian faction, believing that they were weapons or ammunition”.
Affirming that the personnel responsible for monitoring the site were stationed at a certain distance to avoid exposure to radiation, General Mahjoub called on the IAEA to provide them with the necessary protective equipment so that they could control it more close.
Libya has indeed been going through a major political crisis since the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years of dictatorship. Two governments are vying for power, one based in Tripoli (west) and recognized by the UN and the other based in the east and supported by Marshal Haftar’s camp and Parliament.