UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. nuclear team will visit Libya this month to assess the safety of thousands of barrels of milled uranium - known as yellowcake - amid concerns about the country’s deteriorating security situation, a U.N. official said on Monday.
“With respect to yellowcake, we have received information indicating that 6,400 barrels are stored in a non-functional former military facility close to Sabha in the south,” U.N. Libya envoy Tarek Mitri told the Security Council.
“They are under control of a Libyan army battalion,” Mitri told the 15-nation council. An inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit this month to verify the stockpiles and storage conditions, he said.
Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander Pankin raised Russia’s concerns about Libya’s uranium and weapons that might have gone astray in the aftermath of the country’s 2011 civil war during the closed-door consultations on the situation in Libya, council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Moscow has strongly criticized the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya to protect civilians, which led to the ouster of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The Vienna-based IAEA confirmed two years ago towards the end of the country’s half-year civil war that Libya’s previous government had stored raw uranium near Sabha. An agency spokeswoman said at the time the IAEA would begin to implement agency safeguards there once the situation in Libya stabilized.
IAEA safeguards usually include regular inspector visits, seals and possible camera monitoring of nuclear-related sites.
The enriched uranium required for use in atomic reactors or weapons is produced in centrifuges that spin uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) at high speeds. The UF6 is derived from yellow cake, a milled concentrate from mined uranium ore.
Gaddafi announced plans to give up his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in late 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Libya’s current government is struggling to contain militias that helped overthrow Gaddafi two years ago but kept their guns after the NATO-backed rebel offensive unseated him.
There have also been concerns that thousands of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS disappeared after Libya’s 2011 civil war.
Mitri said the U.N. Support Mission in Libya has received preliminary information on MANPADS from Tripoli but has asked for more details about the MANPADS under control of the Libyan government. He said the United Nations was looking for greater cooperation from “international partners” on arms proliferation in Libya.
Mitri said chemical weapons experts would also be traveling to Libya soon to verify the elimination of Libyan toxic gas stocks.
“Further to the verified destruction earlier this year of almost 9 metric tons of mustard gas, an inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected to visit later this month,” he said.
Mitri said the OPCW team will “observe and verify the destruction of chemical weapons in line with Libya’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
He added that the Libyan government has set up an inter-ministerial committee to create a national arms management system and the U.N. mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, will be assisting in that process.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Beech