The UN’s nuclear watchdog has said that two and a half tonnes of uranium have gone missing from a site in Libya.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sounded the alarm after a visit by its inspectors to the undisclosed site earlier this week.
They realised that 10 drums containing uranium ore had disappeared, the IAEA said.
There are growing fears that the uranium could pose a radiological risk as well as nuclear security concerns.
Via a presser, the IAEA said it would conduct further activities “to clarify the circumstances of the removal of the nuclear material and its current location”.
It is still unclear when the uranium went missing. Inspectors had reportedly wanted to visit the location last year, but the trip had to be carried forward because of fighting between different Libyan militias.
The IAEA said that the site where the uranium was stored was not in state-controlled territory.
Since Libya’s ex-dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011, the nation has been divided into competing political and military factions.
It is now split between an interim government in the capital Tripoli and another one in the east.
The IAEA had declined to offer more details on the missing uranium. However, its acknowledgment the uranium went missing at a “previously declared site” narrows the possibilities.
One such declared site is Sabha, some 660 kilometers (410 miles) southeast of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, in the country’s lawless southern reaches of the Sahara Desert. There, Libya under dictator Moammar Qadhafi stored thousands of barrels of so-called yellowcake uranium for a once-planned uranium conversion facility that was never built in his decadeslong secret weapons program.
Estimates put the Libyan stockpile at some 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake uranium under Qadhafi, who declared his nascent nuclear weapons program to the world in 2003 to after the US-led invasion of Iraq.
While inspectors removed the last of the enriched uranium from Libya in 2009, the yellowcake remained behind, with the UN in 2013 estimating some 6,400 barrels of it were stored at Sabha. American officials had worried Iran could try to purchase the uranium from Libya, something Qadhafi’s top civilian nuclear official tried to reassure the US about, according to a 2009 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.