UN nuclear watchdog raised alarm hours earlier amid concerns about radiological and security risks.
More than 2 tonnes of natural uranium reported missing by the UN’s nuclear watchdog in war-torn Libya have been found, a general in the country’s east has said.
Gen Khaled al-Mahjoub, the commander of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar’s communications division, said the containers of uranium had been recovered barely 5km (3 miles) from where they had been stored in southern Libya, and after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported their disappearance earlier on Thursday.
The director general of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, told the organisation’s member states that inspectors on Tuesday found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tonnes of uranium ore concentrate “were not present as previously declared”.
Natural uranium cannot immediately be used for energy production or bomb fuel, as the enrichment process typically requires the metal to be converted into a gas, then later spun in centrifuges to reach the levels needed.
However, each tonne of natural uranium, if obtained by a group with the technological means and resources, can be refined to 5.6kg (12lbs) of weapons-grade material over time, experts say. That made finding the missing metal important for non-proliferation experts.
The discovery that the uranium had gone missing was 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 a confidential statement from Grossi. He said not knowing the location of the material could present a radiological risk and concerns over nuclear security.
In 2003, Libya, under its then-leader Muammar Gaddafi, renounced its nuclear weapons programme, which had obtained centrifuges that could enrich uranium as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, although it made little progress towards a bomb.
The African country has been mired In a political crisis since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, with myriad militias forming opposing alliances backed by foreign powers.
Libya remains split between a nominally interim government in the capital, Tripoli, in the west and another in the east backed by the military strongman Khalifa Haftar.