The Washington Post

Missing uranium has been recovered, Libyan group says

- BY VICTORIA BISSET

Military forces in eastern Libya said Thursday that they recovered a stockpile of uranium declared missing this week by the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency.

The barrels, containing roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium, were found several miles from the warehouse where they were previously stored, the Libyan National Army said in a statement.

The group, which is led by renegade Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter, also released a video of a worker counting what it said were barrels of uranium in the desert in southern Libya.

The IAEA said that its inspectors discovered on Tuesday that 10 drums of natural uranium, in the form of uranium ore concentrat­e, were missing when they visited an unnamed site outside Libyan government control.

The drums “were not present as previously declared at a location in the state of Libya,” the Vienna-based agency said in an emailed statement Thursday.

That form of uranium “poses little radiation hazard, but it requires safe handling,” the agency said, but it added that the uranium could pose “a radiologic­al risk, as well as nuclear security concerns.”

An armed group from neighborin­g Chad may have raided the warehouse and taken the barrels hoping they might contain weapons or ammunition, said the head of the LNA’S media unit, Khaled Mahjoub, Reuters reported.

Libya has been rocked by instabilit­y since a 2011 uprising and subsequent NATO interventi­on led to the overthrow of the government of Moammar Gaddafi. The country has been split since 2014, with competing administra­tions in the east and west supported by various internatio­nal backers.

While natural uranium cannot immediatel­y be used for nuclear energy or weapons, with the right knowledge and resources each ton can be refined to 12 pounds of weapons-grade material over time, according to the Associated Press.

This isn’t the first case of missing radioactiv­e items: In February, officials in Western Australia recovered a tiny but dangerous radioactiv­e capsule after an urgent search lasting almost a week. More recently, the Texas Department of State Health Services said an industrial camera containing radioactiv­e material had gone missing — but it noted that the material is sealed and said the risk of exposure is “very low.”

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