10 barrels of missing uranium found in Libya

Official speculates group from Chad abandoned barrels after failing to weapons or ammunition in them

A barrel filled with yellowcake at the Inkai uranium mine in southern Kazakhstan. The IAEA said it had detected missing uranium during a check at an unnamed site in Libya. Reuters
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Ten drums of uranium declared missing by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, have been found near the warehouse in southern Libya where they were taken from, Eastern Libyan forces said on Thursday.

Khaled Mahjoub, head of a media unit for the Libyan National Army, the main eastern military force, said the 10 missing barrels had been recovered β€” though a separate video he sent showed workers counting 18.

In a confidential statement to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA said that it had detected the missing uranium during a check at an unnamed site in Libya on Tuesday. It had postponed the check in 2022 because of the security situation.

Mr Mahjoub said the site was a warehouse near the border with Chad that the IAEA visited in 2020 and sealed with red wax. The barrels were found about 5 kilometres from the warehouse, he said.

He speculated that a group from Chad had raided the warehouse and taken the barrels hoping they might contain weapons or ammunition, but had abandoned them.

The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr Mahjoub's statement.

It told member states that the uranium ore concentrate had been at a site not under government control requiring complex logistics to reach. It said the missing uranium could represent a radiological and nuclear security concern.

The LNA, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, was at war with western forces from 2014 to 2020 and launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 to try to take control of government there.

Since that bout of conflict ended with a ceasefire, the political process aimed at reuniting Libya has stalled and eastern factions reject the legitimacy of the internationally recognised administration in Tripoli.

The LNA was backed in the conflict by Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group, which a UN panel of experts said in 2020 had deployed up to 1,200 fighters in Libya. The LNA at times also fought alongside fighters from Chad.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 5:45 PM