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Missing uranium found in Libya, military forces say

The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at the organization’s headquarters in Vienna on March 6. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)
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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.

The rise and fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi

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.”

Libya’s lost decade: At the mercy of foreign powers