2.5 tons of uranium went missing from Libya, says UN nuclear watchdog

The missing uranium could be enriched to make a nuclear bomb.
Can Emir
Stock image of uranium ore.
Stock image of uranium ore.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, according to a statement seen by Reuters.

The IAEA inspectors found that ten drums containing the uranium ore concentrate (UOC), previously declared by Libya, were not present at the site. The inspection was planned for last year but was postponed due to security concerns in the region. It was eventually carried out on Tuesday.

The IAEA has said that it will conduct further activities to determine the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site and where it could have gone. The site was not named in the statement, but the UN watchdog has expressed concerns about the loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material. It stated that it might present a radiological risk and nuclear security concerns. The site's complex logistics make it difficult to reach, the statement added.

In 2003, Libya renounced its nuclear weapons program under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi. The program obtained centrifuges capable of enriching uranium as well as the design information for a nuclear bomb. However, it had made little progress toward building one. Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Gaddafi, Libya has been in unrest. Political control has been divided between rival eastern and western factions since 2014, with the last major bout of conflict ending in 2020.

The current interim government in Libya was put in place in early 2021 through an UN-backed peace plan, with the expectation that it would only last until an election scheduled for December of that year. However, the election has still not been held, and the interim government's legitimacy is now also disputed.

The missing uranium raises significant concerns about nuclear security in Libya, particularly given that the material is in the hands of rebel groups rather than the government. The situation is complicated by the country's political instability, which makes it difficult to trace the missing material or hold those responsible accountable. The IAEA and member states are likely to take further action to address the issue and ensure that uranium does not pose a risk to global security.

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