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Inside Libya's nuclear program

02/23/2004

They've done it again. The Federation of American Scientists has gotten ahold of an as-yet-unreleased International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report. You can see a good PDF copy of "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement of the Sodeletedt People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya," dated February 20, 2004, here.

The report offers a glimpse into a nuclear program in disarray, dependent on foreign expertise and equipment. The Libyans did have access to that expertise and equipment, for a price, but failed to make the best use of it, for which their neighbors may be thankful.

It also points to two uncomfortable issues, not much commented on in the press so far. One is Libya's access to a global "gray" market in uranium. The other is Libyan experimentation with a new generation of missiles. We should not assume that either issue is confined to Libya's shores. For exposing these issues to the light of day, the entire world may be thankful.

First, uranium. According to the report, the Libyans imported a big batch of natural uranium in 1978, two years before signing their IAEA Safeguards Agreeement. While they declared their next large uranium purchase, in 1981, they somehow neglected to mention the 1978 buy until now.

Who supplied the uranium to Libya in 1978? And how many other states in good standing with the IAEA still have similar secrets?

In 1985, the Libyans now reveal, they shipped some of their very raw uranium supplies to another country for some specialized chemical processing. A footnote in the report explains, "The receiving country was a nuclear-weapon State, hence the export reporting requirement... of Libya's Safeguards Agreement did not apply." And when the uranium returned later that year in chemically processed form, the Libyans simply did not report it to the IAEA.

In IAEA-speak, "nuclear-weapon State" refers to just five countries: the U.S., the USSR (now Russia), Britain, France, and China. China has a particularly interesting record in the uranium trade, having exported some of the same kinds of chemically processed uranium to Iran in 1991. (See here for the details.) [Iran has also secretly acquired enriched uranium originating in Russia. See here for details.]

Libya also acknowledged receiving uranium from two different countries in 2001 and 2002. The 2001 shipment included two cylinders, one of which held "about 1.7 tonnes of low enriched uranium" in a gaseous form ready for further enrichment in centrifuges. This is presumably the "enriched uranium" allegedly supplied by Pakistan, according to the testimony of one B.S.A. Tahir to the Malaysian police. But the 2002 supplies from another country remain mysterious so far.

Second, missiles. Annex II of the report lists sites inspected by the IAEA. There are many intriguing locates listed, including a pharmaceuticals plant and a series of technology centers, some of them fairly exotic-sounding. I'll point out just a handful here:

10. Tarhuna rocket engine test stand

11. Tarhuna solid propellant pilot plant

12. Central Organization for Electronic Research (COER), Al Fajer Alga Did
(Factory for SCUD Maintenance and Modification)

13. COER, Bera Osta Milad (Tripoli liquid rocket plant)

(Number 12 should probably be transliterated, "Al Fajr Al Jadid," meaning "New Dawn." This seems to be a Libyan revolutionary slogan. It's also the name of a state-controlled newspaper.)

North Korea's role as a supplier of liquid-fueled Scud missiles to Libya is already well known. More obscure is the knowledge, conveyed by numbers 10 and 11 on the list above, that Libya seems to have embarked on a solid-fueled missile program based at Tarhuna.

Does this represent the next wave of missile proliferation in the Middle East? Is Libya the only one? Or does the IAEA report show us the tip of a secret world, its bulk buried in the sand?

Analyst

My earlier comments on the Libyan nuclear program are here. My assessments of Iran's nuclear program are here and here. Earlier, Ami Isseroff asked whether Iran really needs nuclear power.

New: Iran may have secretly acquired enriched uranium originating in Russia. Click here.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000199.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 10:06 PM CST [Link]

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