VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday that Libya’s previous government had stored raw uranium near Sabha, after CNN reported that anti-Gaddafi forces had found a military site containing what appeared to be radioactive material.
The CNN report and the comment by the International Atomic Energy Agency seemed to contradict a U.S. statement last month that Libya’s store of so-called yellow cake was held at the Tajura nuclear research facility near Tripoli.
CNN said military forces loyal to Libya’s National Transitional Council took its television crew to the site near the town of Sabha in the Sahara desert.
The new government says it is consolidating its grip on Sabha and other oasis towns in the south of Libya which had sided with former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
The CNN crew “saw two large warehouses there, one containing thousands of blue barrels, some marked with tape saying “radioactive,” and several plastic bags of yellow powder sealed with the same tape,” it said on its website.
“The material has not been confirmed as being radioactive.”
CNN said protective suits were found hanging in offices that appeared to have belonged to the Libyan government, along with rubber gloves, devices for measuring radioactivity and various military documents.
In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said: “We can confirm that there is yellow cake stored in drums at a site near Sabha ... which Libya previously declared to the IAEA.”
Referring to measures to make sure material is not diverted to non-peaceful purposes, she added: “The IAEA has tentatively scheduled safeguards activities at this location once the situation in the country stabilizes.”
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 concentrate from mined uranium ore.
Last month, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States believed Libya’s stocks of concentrated uranium and mustard agent built up by Gaddafi were secure.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that Libya’s store of yellow cake was held at Tajura, about 34 km east of Tripoli, and that the country no longer had the means to turn it into fissile material for bombs.
In late 2003 the United States announced that Libya agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs, a decision that paved the way to a rapprochement between the countries after years of enmity.
Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Angus MacSwan