The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently informed the United Nations that roughly two-and-a-half tons of uranium have vanished in Libya, leading to increased concerns regarding nuclear security due to the potential use of the uranium in weapons or dirty bombs.
UN nuclear watchdog inspectors visited the Libyan site on Tuesday, and the IAEA reported that 10 drums containing the uranium were absent from their previously recorded location. The storage site for the uranium is allegedly not under government supervision, making it susceptible to theft.
Although the missing uranium is not highly radioactive, it could serve nuclear power purposes or be enriched to create weapons-grade material. This process, however, necessitates a sophisticated processing system, and it remains uncertain who possesses such capabilities. There are worries that Iran, North Korea, Russia, or ISIS could be implicated in the theft.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an ex-commander of the UK’s and NATO’s chemical, biological, and nuclear defense forces, cautioned that the disappearance of a significant amount of uranium oxide, also known as yellowcake, is extremely concerning. He pointed out that the uranium, likely in powdered form, could be enriched for nuclear use or employed to disperse low-level contamination across a vast region.
Scott Roecker of the Nuclear Threat Initiative proposed that the uranium was likely stolen for profit, rather than intended for a nuclear weapon. The uranium was taken from a remote site in southern Libya, where numerous ungoverned areas make it simpler for thieves to avoid detection.
At present, it is uncertain when the uranium disappeared or who might be accountable for its loss. Recovering the missing uranium is a top priority to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and be exploited for malicious purposes.
This incident underscores the importance of improved nuclear security measures and global collaboration to prevent nuclear material theft. It is crucial to secure vulnerable locations and curb the spread of nuclear weapons and dirty bombs.
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