Tons of uranium missing from Libyan site, IAEA tells member states

VIENNA, March 15 (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, the watchdog told member states in a statement on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

The finding is the result of an inspection originally planned for last year that "had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region" and was finally carried out on Tuesday, according to the confidential statement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi. 

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," the one-page statement said.

The agency would carry out "further activities" to determine the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site, which it did not name, and where it is now, the statement added.

"The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns," it said, adding that reaching the site required "complex logistics".

It is unclear when the uranium went missing or who could have taken it. But it was removed from a "very remote location in southern Libya," according to Scott Roecker from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a global security organisation working on nuclear issues.

"If you're removing this material from this location you must really want it," he told the BBC's Newsday programme, adding that the quantity that appears to have been taken is "approximately one tenth of the amount of material" stored at the facility "so you would absolutely see it missing". 

However, the material "in its current form [known as yellow cake] cannot be made into a nuclear weapon, so there's no concern that there's enough material that could be used in a nuclear weapon right now", Mr Roecker said. Also, there "are very little radiation concerns with the material as it is today", he added.

The IAEA told the BBC it was working to clarify what happened, how the nuclear material was removed and where it was now.

In 2003 Libya under then-leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced its nuclear weapons programme, which had obtained centrifuges that can enrich uranium as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, though it made little progress towards a bomb.


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